The Effects of Providing Examples in Survey Questions

We conducted a preliminary study and two follow-up studies investigating how providing examples affected responses to survey questions about food consumption. The results of the first follow-up study indicated that, when the examples were frequently consumed food items, respondents reported higher consumption than when they were infrequently consumed items. In addition, atypical examples had greater impact on the answers than did typical examples, probably because respondents are likely to think of the typical instances anyway. Our second follow-up study compared answers to open-ended food consumption questions with answers to closed-ended food consumption questions; respondents tended to leave food items out of the open responses (as compared to the closed responses), but this tendency was reduced for the items they received as examples with the open-ended questions. Examples seem to improve the accuracy of the answers when they remind respondents to include items they might otherwise have left out, because they either had forgotten them or were unsure whether to include them. Overall, these results suggest that respondents base their food-consumption judgments on a limited set of category members. The examples affect which and how many category members they consider.