When gathering insights, researchers rely on open and honest answers from their audiences to ensure the highest quality data possible. Insights captured in research vary from emotional reactions with no correct answer to specific knowledge-based questions that test a respondent’s understanding of a particular topic. Knowledge-based questions are often included in studies to establish a respondent’s baseline knowledge of a particular topic. This is particularly true when conducting political research.

A small portion of respondents may be tempted to use the Internet to search for the correct response when answering surveys rather than answering based on their own personal knowledge. Using outside sources like this isn’t common. But it is still important to design research to encourage honest answers and drive quality data.  

Why cheat when survey respondents are rewarded for their participation rather than the accuracy of their responses? Here the concept of self-deceptive enhancement is at play. Consumers often overclaim their knowledge across a range of domains. Taking online surveys provides an outlet for respondents to show off their expertise. However, respondents are so comfortable with online research that there is often confusion between the knowledge they have personally and the answers they know they can find online.

So, how can research be designed to encourage honest answers from participants? Researchers at the University of Houston conducted experiments to determine the most effective approach.

Initially, researchers believed timers would reduce reliance on outside sources by giving respondents less time to search the Internet for the correct answer to a question. However, this method did not prove effective in deterring some respondents from looking up the correct answers to questions online.

Researchers also found that making a simple request of respondents to answer questions honestly at the beginning of a study wasn’t effective in reducing reliance on outside sources. However, asking respondents to make a commitment and affirm their choice not to use outside sources did prove an effective method of deterring the use of outside sources. The act of making a commitment was more powerful for respondents in changing their behavior than simply receiving a request. 

Device matters when determining those who are likely to rely on outside sources. Researchers found respondents taking surveys on mobile devices are less likely to search for correct answers online than those taking surveys on laptops or desktops. Mobile respondents may be on-the-go or multi-tasking when taking surveys and thus less likely to take the time to research correct answers to knowledge-based questions.