••• questionnaire development

Survey approach gleans truer responses to dangerous questions

A glacier from above and below the water.

As reported by Ileana Wachtel of Newswise, Chinese citizens who rarely voice open criticism of their government revealed stronger negative views when they could answer questions anonymously, according to a study published in The China Quarterly.

The study, “Do Chinese citizens conceal opposition to the CCP in surveys? Evidence from two experiments,” by researchers at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, shows an enormous drop in citizen support for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and government policies when citizens are surveyed using a method called a list experiment.

A list experiment confers a heightened sense of anonymity by asking respondents how many statements they agree with rather than which ones and in this case researchers found CCP support hovers between 50% and 70%, not 90% as reported in traditional surveys.

The direct-question survey also showed that only 8% of citizens cited fear of repression as a reason for not protesting, while the list-experiment survey revealed that about 40% acknowledged fear as a deterrent.

Traditional surveys conducted in China that directly question respondents overstate Chinese citizens’ support for the CCP by up to 28.5 percentage points, according to the study. Thus, the researchers underscore the need for scholars to stop using direct-question surveys to measure public opinion in China and other repressive environments.

••• the business of research

Lie to them but not to me

A person crossing their fingers behind their back.Next time you’re interviewing a prospective candidate for your insights team, you may want to keep the conversation one-on-one, as new research shows that people may be more inclined to act deceptively when dealing with a group than an individual.

According to research from the UBC Sauder School of Business, under what’s called the plurality effect, people behave more unethically toward groups than individuals. A job candidate, for example, would be more likely to exaggerate their qualifications during a panel interview than a one-on-one because groups are often perceived as competitive, aggressive and negative and less like a “real” entity and, as a result, people tend to see groups as less personal and less deserving of moral treatment – which in turn excuses less-ethical behavior toward them.

A person’s connection to the group can also make a difference. People tend to show greater moral concern toward individuals in their circles or “in-group” – which can include friends, family members and colleagues and people whose stories have affected them in some way.

“There is strong evidence that you will be more deceptive to the out-group versus the in-group because you feel relatively more responsibility toward the in-group and you like them more,” says co-author Daniel Skarlicki, a professor at the UBC Sauder School of Business. “If we go back in time, the out-group is whoever you’re competing with for food. It’s evolutionary.”