This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 01 table of contents.

Options given Respondents

Another set of problems with observational research involves the response options given to respondents. For example, Bayer Aspirin ran an ad reporting that "more doctors recommended Bayer" when given a choice between Nuprin, Tylenol, Tylenol II, or Bayer. Of course, Bayer is a brand of aspirin (more accurately, it is a huge pharmaceutical company that has tried hard to identify its name with high quality aspirin). To the skeptical consumer, the poll might raise an obvious question. What if doctors were given a different set of options including different brands of aspirin or cheap, generic aspirin? The results might not be so favorable to Bayer. In a poll like this, the options given to respondents make a huge difference.

What are "open" and "closed" questionnaires? What are examples of how this can affect results of a survey?

Researchers distinguish between open and closed questionnaires (Schwarz, 1999). Closed questionnaires require a respondent to pick from a list of items. Open questionnaires ask people to come up with the items themselves. The two procedures produce dramatically different results. One study found that 61.5% of a sample endorsed "To think for themselves" as "the most important thing for children to prepare them for life," as long as that was one of the choices. If people were asked to come up with their own list, they mentioned it only 4.6% of the time.

Similarly, when people were asked to list historically important events of the 20th Century, they seldom mentioned the invention of the computer. However, when this choice was added to the list, a high percentage of respondents selected it.

People may make different responses to a poll or survey depending upon the scale that is used. Schwarz (1999) gives the following example:

What are some examples of how scales can influence results?

When asked how successful they had been in life, 34% of a representative sample reported high success when the numeric value of the rating scale ranged from -5 to 5, whereas only 13% did so when the numeric values ranged from 0 to 10.

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