Quality & Quantity 37: 327–335, 2003.
© 2003 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
How True Is True? Assessing Socially Desirable
B. ALEX MATTHEWS
, FRANK BAKER
and RACHEL L. SPILLERS
Center for Patient Care and Outcomes Research, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee,
Behavioral Research Center, National Home Ofﬁce, American Cancer Society,
1599 Clifton Road, N. E., Atlanta, GA 30329-4251, U.S.A.
Abstract. Health care professionals’ (HCPs) opinions and perspectives are highly valued because
these individuals often play a major role in developing and implementing support and education
services aimed at cancer patients and their families. The purpose of this study was to examine the
efﬁcacy of adding a substantive measure that would be useful for determining socially desirable
responses (SDRs) without adding unnecessary length to the questionnaire design. A total of 1180
nurses, physicians, and social workers specializing in oncology returned fully completed mailed
questionnaires (61% response rate) originally intended to measure HCPs’ awareness (i.e., knowledge,
helpfulness, and recommendations) of cancer support services. SDRs were assessed by the inclusion
of a bogus program that was compared to actual support programs. Results indicated that relative
to the bogus program, HCPs were signiﬁcantly more likely to endorse programs that they knew
about, thought helpful, and recommended. Evidence of SDR bias was lacking. These ﬁndings provide
support for the inclusion of measures that can be used on brief questionnaires to strengthen research
Key words: socially desirable responses, health care professionals, cancer, research methodology.
It is important that researchers investigate sources of bias that could affect con-
clusions (Asch et al., 1997). It is particularly important for surveys of physicians
and other health care professionals (HCPs) who are difﬁcult to recruit (Asch et al.,
1997; Fridinger et al., 1992; Mayheux et al., 1989) and in the domain of health
care services because positive adaptation to illness often depends on effective in-
terventions (Fawzy et al., 1995; Gray et al., 1999). Ironically, although members
of busy professional health care teams are more likely to be besieged with surveys,
they also may have less time to complete surveys and do not wish to spend the
limited time they have contemplating subject matter of little substantive interest
Author for correspondence.