Context Matters – how Communicative and Cognitive Processes Impact Results in Surveys on Student Health

  • O. Kada


Creating health promoting conditions for students is regarded an important duty of universities. Questionnaire surveys are the standard means for collecting data on students’ health. Yet, the cognitive and communicative processes impacting the answers in self-reports as described in the influential paper “How the questions shape the answers” by Norbert Schwarz [1999, American Psychologist, 54(2), 93-105] are not always considered sufficiently. The present paper describes the results of a replication of this work conducted within a research methods course (N = 16 students). The course aimed at sensitizing the students for context effects and promoting their research self-efficacy. Study subjects (N = 72) were randomly assigned to two experimental conditions, namely two versions of a questionnaire on student health. Results were significantly impacted by response alternatives (high vs. low frequency), question form (open vs. closed-ended) and question order. It was demonstrated that context effects shape the answers we receive in student health surveys. Besides, the students involved in conducting the present study reported a substantial perceived increase in research self-efficacy.
Oral presentations