Question Order Effects in Evaluating Injunctive and Descriptive Social Norms

Mykolas Simas Poškus


Studies that involve measurements of social norms via questionnaires often do not take possible question order effects into consideration. This study aims to uncover the order effects that occur while measuring injunctive and descriptive social norms via questionnaires. For this purpose, three 30 item questionnaires were constructed, the only difference between them being the order of the items presented. In the first type of questionnaire, items directed at injunctive norms were presented first; in the second – items directed at descriptive norms were presented first; lastly, in the third type of questionnaire, items were presented in random order. One way analysis of variance was used to determine whether order effects were present. It was hypothesized that when norms of one type are made salient, norms of the other type would be perceived differently than if they were presented first. It was also hypothesized that order effects would not be present when questionnaire items were presented in random order.
Results of this study have shown that reported descriptive norms can be influenced by the order of presented questions: when injunctive norm items are presented first, descriptive norms tend to be viewed as more distant from injunctive norms. Injunctive norms, however, appear more resistant to order effects and their position in the questionnaire appears to have no significant effect on their perception. Order effects were neutralized when questionnaire items were presented in random order.
Based on these findings, the authors recommend to researchers, who intend on measuring descriptive and injunctive social norms, to present questionnaire items in random order, in order to minimize the possible question order effects.


descriptive norms; injunctive norms; question order

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