Positive versus negative: A cognitive perspective on wording effects for contrative questions in attitude surveys

Author: Naomi Kamoen
LOT Number: 300
ISBN: 978-94-6093-083-6
Pages: 183
Year: 2012
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This study is the first to show that the choice for a positive or a negative question wording systematically affects survey answers : respondents are more likely to answer no or disagree to negative attitude questions ( e.g . X is bad . Yes / No ) than to answer yes or agree to equivalent positive ones ( e.g . X is good . Yes / No ) . To unravel the causes for this positive / negative asymmetry , we related wording effects to the cognitive processes underlying question answering . Two eye - tracking studies were conducted to obtain information about the temporal aspects of the question - answering process for positive versus negative questions . The observed time differences were subsequently related to a theoretical model for the question - answering process . This was done using a combination of insights about processing survey questions , experimental designs in which that knowledge was used , and newly designed eye - tracking measures that are relevant for these specific purposes . With this combination of strategies we were able to demonstrate that contrastive questions cause similar attitudes to be retrieved from memory . Therefore , they measure the same underlying attitude , and hence , are equally valid . Wording effects arise when respondents translate their own opinion into the response options . During this stage , the answering options are assigned a meaning that is not absolute , but relative to the polarity of the evaluative term in the question . The conclusions drawn from this study have implications for theories about text processing in general , and for theories about the cognitive processes of question - answering in particular . These implications , as well as the implications for survey practice , are discussed in this dissertation .

This study is the first to show that the choice for a positive or a negative question wording systematically affects survey answers : respondents are more likely to answer no or disagree to negative attitude questions ( e.g . X is bad . Yes / No ) than to answer yes or agree to equivalent positive ones ( e.g . X is good . Yes / No ) . To unravel the causes for this positive / negative asymmetry , we related wording effects to the cognitive processes underlying question answering . Two eye - tracking studies were conducted to obtain information about the temporal aspects of the question - answering process for positive versus negative questions . The observed time differences were subsequently related to a theoretical model for the question - answering process . This was done using a combination of insights about processing survey questions , experimental designs in which that knowledge was used , and newly designed eye - tracking measures that are relevant for these specific purposes . With this combination of strategies we were able to demonstrate that contrastive questions cause similar attitudes to be retrieved from memory . Therefore , they measure the same underlying attitude , and hence , are equally valid . Wording effects arise when respondents translate their own opinion into the response options . During this stage , the answering options are assigned a meaning that is not absolute , but relative to the polarity of the evaluative term in the question . The conclusions drawn from this study have implications for theories about text processing in general , and for theories about the cognitive processes of question - answering in particular . These implications , as well as the implications for survey practice , are discussed in this dissertation .

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