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What are the social desirability questions?

It is well documented that survey respondents often like to give answers that will make them look better. For instance, surveys almost always show a higher proportion of people who claim to have voted in the last election than actually did. This is a problem if we want to understand why people vote. We might just be predicting who will claim to have voted.

Social desirability measures are questions that almost certainly don’t apply to anyone but do sound like desirable statements.

We asked respondents to tick which (if any) of these statements applied to them (adapted from

  • I always practice what I preach
  • If I say to people that  I will do something, I always keep my promise no matter what
  • I would never lie to people
  • I always smile at people every time I meet them

The more of these, a respondent ticks, the more likely it is that they are giving answers to make themselves appear good.