Some questions are too sensitive to ask directly, even in an anonymous online survey. The more sensitive the question, the more likely respondents will feel uncomfortable and withhold their true beliefs and opinions. List experiments capitalize on indirect questioning methods to alleviate concerns of preference falsification and social desirability bias.
When you really need some honesty on a sensitive topic, list experiments are the right tool for the job. Not only that, but accurately measuring private opinion means you can estimate the gap between privately held and publicly-stated opinion.
A list experiment (also called the item-count technique) is a method for indirectly measuring private opinion for issues where individuals might otherwise be likely to publicly withhold their true opinion.
List experiments work by guaranteeing privacy. Unlike traditional survey methods, respondents are never asked directly to share their opinion about individual statements. Instead, respondents are asked to read a list of statements and choose the number with which they agree.
By comparing a group of people who see a list that includes the sensitive statement (i.e., the treatment group) to a group of people who see a list without the sensitive statement (i.e., the control group), we can make inferences about the prevalence of that private opinion in a population—or simply the difference in means between the number of endorsed statements by the treatment and control group.
Recent advancements in statistics and multivariate modeling have led to more sophisticated analyses allowing for more detailed investigation of the data.
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