Library Header Image
LSE Research Online LSE Library Services

The effect of probing "don't know" responses on measurement quality and nonresponse in surveys

Kuha, Jouni ORCID: 0000-0002-1156-8465, Butt, Sarah, Katsikatsou, Myrsini and Skinner, Chris J. (2018) The effect of probing "don't know" responses on measurement quality and nonresponse in surveys. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 113 (521). 26 - 40. ISSN 0162-1459

Text - Accepted Version
Download (416kB) | Preview

Identification Number: 10.1080/01621459.2017.1323640


In survey interviews, “Don’t know” (DK) responses are commonly treated as missing data. One way to reduce the rate of such responses is to probe initial DK answers with a follow-up question designed to encourage respondents to give substantive, non-DK responses. However, such probing can also reduce data quality by introducing additional or differential measurement error. We propose a latent variable model for analyzing the effects of probing on responses to survey questions. The model makes it possible to separate measurement effects of probing from true differences between respondents who do and do not require probing. We analyze new data from an experiment, which compared responses to two multi-item batteries of questions with and without probing. In this study, probing reduced the rate of DK responses by around a half. However, it also had substantial measurement effects, in that probed answers were often weaker measures of constructs of interest than were unprobed answers. These effects were larger for questions on attitudes than for pseudo-knowledge questions on perceptions of external facts. The results provide evidence against the use of probing of “Don’t know” responses, at least for the kinds of items and respondents considered in this study. Supplementary materials for this article are available online.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2017 American Statistical Association
Divisions: Methodology
Subjects: Q Science > QA Mathematics
Date Deposited: 21 Apr 2017 13:48
Last Modified: 20 Oct 2021 02:30
Projects: 262208
Funders: UK National Centre for Research Methods under its program of Methodological Innovation Projects, European Union under European Union under Framework Programme 7

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics