Limited Self-knowledge and Survey Response Behavior

Armin Falk (Bonn University)

15 avril 2021, 11h00–12h30

Salle Zoom


We study response behavior in surveys and show how the explanatory power of selfreports can be improved. First, we develop a choice model of survey response behavior under the assumption that the respondent has imperfect self-knowledge about her individual characteristics. In panel data, the model predicts that the variance in responses for different characteristics increases in self-knowledge and that the variance for a given characteristic over time is non-monotonic in self-knowledge. Importantly, the ratio of these variances identifies an individual’s level of self-knowledge, i.e., the latter can be inferred from observed response patterns. Second, we develop a consistent and unbiased estimator for self-knowledge based on the model. Third, we run an experiment to test the model’s main predictions in a context where the researcher knows the true underlying characteristics. The data confirm the model’s predictions as well as the estimator’s validity. Finally, we turn to a large panel data set, estimate individual levels of self-knowledge, and show that accounting for differences in self-knowledge significantly increases the explanatory power of estimates. Using a median split in self-knowledge and regressing risky behaviors on self-reported risk attitudes, we find that the R2 can be multiple times larger for above- than belowmedian subjects. Similarly, gender gaps in risk attitudes are considerably larger when restricting samples to subjects with high self-knowledge. These examples illustrate how using the estimator may improve inference from survey data.


Armin Falk (Bonn University), « Limited Self-knowledge and Survey Response Behavior », Behavior, Institutions, and Development seminar, 15 avril 2021, 11h00–12h30, salle Zoom.

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