Quality & Quantity 38: 475–493, 2004.
© 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Memory Recall Errors in Retrospective Surveys: A
Reverse Record Check Study
H. ÖZTA¸S AYHAN
Department of Statistics, Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey
Computing Centre, State Institute of Statistics, Ankara, Turkey
Abstract. This paper reports on a study to compare self-reports during an interview with staff who
attended a University health centre in Turkey, with the records of visits to the same health centre
over the previous 12 months. Design of the study reﬂects the effects of importance of the event,
duration since the event, frequency of the occurrence of the event, measurement scale of the event,
and bounded and unbounded recalling. In order to assess the extent of recall error, responses to
retrospective questions on health centre visits are compared with administrative records. Statistical
models are proposed for short and long term human memory recall error effects on responses.
Key words: memory recall error, record linkage, matching procedures, record check study.
Several surveys have been done by many researchers (Gray, 1955; Neter and Waks-
berg, 1964) in which the information was gathered by using so-called retrospective
questions, referring to a certain period of time preceding the date of the interview.
In retrospective surveys, many types of recall errors such as omission, telescoping
(forward or backward), confusion, and reporting load effects have also been studied
in the past.
The aim of this paper is to examine factors relating to memory decay and their
consequences as response to survey questions related to past events. The current
work is designed as a reverse record check study (Groves, 1989) which is based
on the sample drawn from the record ﬁle for persons with a trait under study.
Interviews are taken containing questions about information also contained on the
records, and a comparison of survey data with record data is performed to estimate
the measurement error.
The present work covers a review of literature on this topic. The method of
study provides the details of the methodology used. An examination of the factors
Author for correspondence: Department of Statistics, Middle East Technical University, Ankara
06531, Turkey. Tel: 90312 2105314; Fax: 90312 2101285; E-mail: OAyhan@metu.edu.tr