Some changes to The Survey Geek
Top 10 IT Stories of 2008

Cultural bias in global surveys

This is a huge topic and an area where there is a lot written but little definitive being said.  And so I read with interest a little blurb in the current issue of mySSIOne of the articles reports on research by Nielsen UAE which seems to show that people in some countries are culturally disposed to respond more positively to survey questions than those in other countries.  The example at hand is a product test of some new soap products in which respondents were asked to indicate their likely intention to buy.  Just 16 percent of UK respondents answered "Definitely" compared to 50 percent of Indians and 58 percent of Brazilians.  The researchers interpret this as a form of acquiescence bias, something I touched on in an earlier post.  To quote from the mySSI article: "Reasons for acquiescence bias include the presence of a collective culture featuring hospitality (wanting to please), negativity avoidance, polite and agreeable natures, together with economic optimism as a result of high growth in these economies."

The obvious quesiton is whether this bias can be corrected in questionnaire design and on that topic there is considerable disagreement.  There are those who argue that some scales work better than others, while some argue that scales are inherently flawed for cross-cultural research and hence the drive toward MaxDiff.  Devoted readers may remember some experimental work we did on this last year that indicated it may not be the great device its supporters have made it out to be.  That aside, there is some interesting work on scales in global research that I need to get more on top of.  Stay tuned.