• Article

Does voice matter for youth reports of tobacco use? An interactive voice response experiment

Survey mode has been associated with differing reports of smoking behavior among youth, with household telephone surveys generally yielding lower estimates of youth smoking rates than school-based surveys. Researchers assume the lower estimates from telephone surveys reflect underreporting due to youths’ concerns about parents or others overhearing their responses. School surveys lessen concerns about parents overhearing youths’ responses but exclude youth who have dropped out of school and underrepresented those who attend infrequently. As a result, the best methods for accurately measuring youth smoking behavior continue to be investigated (Fowler and Stringfellow 2001; Gfroerer et al. 1997).

For household telephone surveys, using interactive voice response (IVR) to allow youth to self-report has been shown to increase youth reports of smoking compared to interviewer administration (Currivan et al. 2004; Moskowitz 2004). Nevertheless, this research shows that a significant gap remains between youth smoking estimates from IVR household surveys and school surveys for the same population (Currivan et al. 2004).

The observed differences in estimates of youth smoking between household telephone surveys and school surveys raise the question of how disclosure risk might influence how youth answer smoking questions. If youth respondents are concerned about disclosure risk, can we manipulate the household telephone survey protocol through IVR to influence how youth think about the potential audience for their responses to smoking questions? The standard adult female voice used in many IVR applications may encourage youth to think about the risk of disclosure to adults and therefore discourage reporting smoking behavior or intentions. However, a youth voice may encourage respondents to think about disclosure to an audience of their peers and perhaps lead to increased reporting of smoking behavior or intentions. If youth respondents are not sufficiently concerned about disclosure or are not influenced by the voice type, no differences in reporting smoking behavior or intentions might be observed. In this paper, we present the results of an IVR experiment where youth respondents were randomly assigned to an adult or youth female voice to assess whether their reports of smoking behavior varied by voice type.


Mayo, N., Muldavin, B., & Currivan, D. (2014). Does voice matter for youth reports of tobacco use? An interactive voice response experiment. Survey Practice, 7(3).