• Presentation

Gaming the System: Inaccurate Responses to Randomized Response Technique Items


Richards, A. K., & Dean, E. (2012, May). Gaming the System: Inaccurate Responses to Randomized Response Technique Items. Presented at AAPOR 2012, Orlando, FL.


The Randomized Response Technique (RRT) is used to encourage accurate responding to sensitive survey questions. When using the RRT, respondents are given two questions (one sensitive and the other nonsensitive with a known response distribution) and are instructed to answer one of them. The question to be answered is determined by the outcome of a random act with a known probability (e.g. a coin toss), that only the respondent sees. Researchers do not know which question each respondent answered, but are able to calculate proportions for each response to the sensitive question.

Though it is designed to reduce error, the RRT may actually increase measurement error if respondents implement it incorrectly. Evaluating the RRT is challenging because the outcome of its driving feature, the randomizer, is concealed from researchers. As a result, prior research has typically assumed that higher reporting of undesirable responses signals the RRT’s success.

Eight RRT items were evaluated in a non-probability survey of 75 participants of the online virtual world, Second Life (SL). Participants were randomly assigned to one of three modes: face-to-face interview in SL, voice chat interview in SL, or web. The randomizer across all modes was an interactive, 3-dimensional virtual coin toss that was discreetly manipulated by the researchers in order to determine with near certainty whether participants followed the procedure.

Only 67% of participants followed the procedure for every RRT item. The greatest rate of procedural noncompliance on an item was 13%. There were no significant differences in RRT compliance by demographic characteristics or survey mode. Most participants indicated in debriefing questions that they enjoyed this method of answering questions, but their noncompliance is cause for additional skepticism about using the RRT.