Asking sensitive questions and handling the responses

So, this is a two-fer, as these topics were covered over a couple of weeks and are very closely related.  How do we handle asking people sensitive questions they may not feel comfortable answering, and then how do we handle the data?

(I decided to make the “thumbnail” a picture of the books I grabbed for my tablet stand today, because why not?  How many pictures of me staring at the camera do we really need, after all?  Also, lesson learned: check to be sure the random t-shirt collar isn’t visible under the sweater, because it looks silly.)


Heck, J. E., Sell, R. L., & Sherri, S. G. (2006). Health care access among individuals involved in same-sex relationships. American Journal of Public Health, 96(6), 1111-8.
A look at statistical analysis of data taken from the National Health Information Survey.

Lee RM. (1993) Chapter 5: Asking Sensitive Questions on Surveys, and Chapter 6: Asking Sensitive Questions: Interviewing in Doing Research on Sensitive Topics. London: Sage Publications, 1993
The chapters pretty much do what they say on the tin.  I do worry that some of the techniques suggested to reduce reluctance to respond may result in over-reporting, but I’m not sure we have a really viable alternative.

Lee, R.M. (1993) Chapter 9: Handling Sensitive Data and Chapter 10: Disclosure and Dissemination in Research on Sensitive Topics in Doing Research on Sensitive Topics. London: Sage Publications.

Pathela, P., Hajat, A., Schillinger, J., Schillinger ,J., Blank, S., Sell, R.L., and Mostashari, F. (2006). Discordance between sexual behavior and self-reported sexual identity: A population-based survey of New York City men. Annals of Internal Medicine 145, 416-425.
This article is actually as relevant to defining orientation as it is to survey methods around sensitive questions. The topic of “does your sexual behavior match your sexual orientation identity” is one that always gets my attention.  Usually the context is HIV exposure risk research such as this.  I find it slightly annoying that they stopped analyzing the self-identified bisexual men after a certain point, though I can see why it made sense for their research question.

Tourangeau, R., and Yan, T. (2007) Sensitive questions in surveys. Psychological Bulletin 133(5), 859-83.
Similar to the chapters above but does some actual statistical analysis of the error introduced and effects on interpretation of results.

Villarroel, M.A., Turner, C.F., Rogers, S.M., Roman, A.M., Cooley, P.C., Steinberg, A.B., Eggleston, E., and Chromy, J.R. (2008) T-ACASI reduces bias in STD measurements: The National STD and Behavior Measurement Experiment. Sexually Transmitted Diseases 35(5), 499-506.
Looks at a specific method of interviewing that appears to reduce bias: telephone and computer-assisted self-interviewing (T-ACASI). Looks like people find speaking to a computer less intimidating than a person, even a person on the phone.







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