Comparison of self-reported telephone interviewing and web-based survey responses: findings from the Second Australian Young and Well National Survey

Alyssa C. Milton*, Louise A. Ellis, Tracey A. Davenport, Jane M. Burns, Ian B. Hickie

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: Web-based self-report surveying has increased in popularity, as it can rapidly yield large samples at a low cost. Despite this increase in popularity, in the area of youth mental health, there is a distinct lack of research comparing the results of Web-based self-report surveys with the more traditional and widely accepted computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI). Objective: The Second Australian Young and Well National Survey 2014 sought to compare differences in respondent response patterns using matched items on CATI versus a Web-based self-report survey. The aim of this study was to examine whether responses varied as a result of item sensitivity, that is, the item's susceptibility to exaggeration on underreporting and to assess whether certain subgroups demonstrated this effect to a greater extent.

Methods: A subsample of young people aged 16 to 25 years (N=101), recruited through the Second Australian Young and Well National Survey 2014, completed the identical items on two occasions: via CATI and via Web-based self-report survey. Respondents also rated perceived item sensitivity.

Results: When comparing CATI with the Web-based self-report survey, a Wilcoxon signed-rank analysis showed that respondents answered 14 of the 42 matched items in a significantly different way. Significant variation in responses (CATI vs Web-based) was more frequent if the item was also rated by the respondents as highly sensitive in nature. Specifically, 63% (5/8) of the high sensitivity items, 43% (3/7) of the neutral sensitivity items, and 0% (0/4) of the low sensitivity items were answered in a significantly different manner by respondents when comparing their matched CATI and Web-based question responses. The items that were perceived as highly sensitive by respondents and demonstrated response variability included the following: sexting activities, body image concerns, experience of diagnosis, and suicidal ideation. For high sensitivity items, a regression analysis showed respondents who were male (beta=-.19, P=.048) or who were not in employment, education, or training (NEET; beta=-.32, P=.001) were significantly more likely to provide different responses on matched items when responding in the CATI as compared with the Web-based self-report survey. The Web-based self-report survey, however, demonstrated some evidence of avidity and attrition bias.

Conclusions: Compared with CATI, Web-based self-report surveys are highly cost-effective and had higher rates of self-disclosure on sensitive items, particularly for respondents who identify as male and NEET. A drawback to Web-based surveying methodologies, however, includes the limited control over avidity bias and the greater incidence of attrition bias. These findings have important implications for further development of survey methods in the area of health and well-being, especially when considering research topics (in this case diagnosis, suicidal ideation, sexting, and body image) and groups that are being recruited (young people, males, and NEET).

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere37
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalJMIR Mental Health
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2017. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • survey methods
  • youth
  • mental health
  • online behaviors
  • information disclosure


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