A Comparison of Methods for Collecting Self-Report Data on Sensitive Topics

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Insufficient attention has been paid to whether disclosure rates of sensitive or stigmatizing information vary as a function of method of inquiry. Methods vary both in terms of the anonymity afforded the participant and the opportunity to make a connection with the researcher, both of which might affect participants' willingness to disclose such information. In this investigation, 215 undergraduate students were randomly assigned to complete identical questionnaires using one of the three most common methods of data collection (in-person interview, telephone interview, and paper-and-pencil questionnaire) or an automated telephonic data collection (ATDC) system. Questions on six topic areas of increasing social sensitivity (study habits, substance use, physical and sexual aggression, victimization and perpetration) were included. The results indicated that there were no differences in disclosure rates due to methods and no method by topic interaction, but the two telephonic methods both produced significantly higher participation rates than the two other methods. The results suggest that, at least for a college student sample, an automated telephonic system produces data comparable to that of more traditional methods, while offering greater convenience, economy, and participation.

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