Precision and Disclosure in Text and Voice Interviews on Smartphones

As people increasingly communicate via asynchronous non-spoken modes on mobile devices, particularly text messaging (e.g., SMS), longstanding assumptions and practices of social measurement via telephone survey interviewing are being challenged. In the study reported here, 634 people who had agreed to participate in an interview on their iPhone were randomly assigned to answer 32 questions from US social surveys via text messaging or speech, administered either by a human interviewer or by an automated interviewing system. 10 interviewers from the University of Michigan Survey Research Center administered voice and text interviews; automated systems launched parallel text and voice interviews at the same time as the human interviews were launched. The key question was how the interview mode affected the quality of the response data, in particular the precision of numerical answers (how many were not rounded), variation in answers to multiple questions with the same response scale (differentiation), and disclosure of socially undesirable information. Texting led to higher quality data-fewer rounded numerical answers, more differentiated answers to a battery of questions, and more disclosure of sensitive information-than voice interviews, both with human and automated interviewers. Text respondents also reported a strong preference for future interviews by text. The findings suggest that people interviewed on mobile devices at a time and place that is convenient for them, even when they are multitasking, can give more trustworthy and accurate answers than those in more traditional spoken interviews. The findings also suggest that answers from text interviews, when aggregated across a sample, can tell a different story about a population than answers from voice interviews, potentially altering the policy implications from a survey.