Survey researchers hope that respondents will provide high-quality data, but evidence suggests that social desirability bias may be commonplace. Social desirability can lead to significant underreporting or overreporting of sensitive behaviors. With better understanding of the cognitive processes that respondents use to prepare and deliver their responses, survey designers could hope to minimize social desirability bias or at least detect settings that lessen its impact. The primary objective of this study was to use survey paradata to understand the psychology of responding to certain types of survey questions. More specifically, we sought to determine how emotional triggering can alter response latencies to cognitively demanding and sensitive survey questions on induced abortion, which is underreported. We hypothesize that having had a prior abortion might lengthen response times to an indirect question about abortion among respondents who have experienced this sensitive reproductive outcome as they hesitate in deciding whether and how to respond to the question. Data come from a representative survey of 6,035 reproductive age women in Rajasthan, India. We used list experiment question active screen time paradata in conjunction with responses from direct questions on abortion to assess our hypothesis. Our final model was a multivariate linear regression with random effects at the level of the interviewer, including adjustments for respondent, community, and interviewer characteristics to estimate withinrespondent effects. Results suggest that women who reported an abortion on the direct abortion questions took 5.11 (95% CI 0.21, 10.00) seconds longer to respond to the list experiment treatment list compared to the control list in comparison to women who did not report an abortion on the direct abortion questions. This study demonstrates the additional insights gained when focusing on response latencies to cognitively demanding questions involved in the measurement of sensitive behaviors.
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