Avoiding misrepresentations on MTurk

One criticism I hear about MTurk is that “people aren’t who they say they are.” I am pretty sure this phenomenon exists on every online survey site ever but whatever.

This study attempted to survey Muslims in the US using MTurk, and here is what this study recommends to avoid misrepresentation, particularly in longitudinal surveys:

“The defining features of our target group are not explicitly stated in the language of the MTurk HIT. This has been done to diminish the likelihood of selection bias based on the use of enticing (or unenticing) language in the description of the task. By using neutral, but descriptive language, our intent is to prevent generating disproportionate interest in our studies by non-random groups of people. This approach has also been taken to curb the potential for intentional misrepresentation. That is, to prevent people from mimicking or falsely reporting the traits that we are looking for in order to be invited to participate in additional surveys.

Accordingly, we recommend that the title and description of the initial screening survey are informative, do not reveal the selection criteria, and are largely neutral in tone. For example, we would recommend against a HIT phrased as, “Fun research study for people who love to play sports after work!” This would likely draw increased interest from athletes – or those who are content to pretend to be for the amount of compensation offered in the HIT. A more neutral invitation to participate in a “Survey about your hobbies and leisure activities” provides some indication that there will be questions about things that they do in their free time but does not indicate what the target group will be. This method of screening is intended to minimize overt lying or misrepresentation to qualify for a higher paying survey. For our work with corporate research partners, we have also maintained an unbranded, generic presence as a requester in order to mitigate selection and misrepresentation concerns.”

This is an excellent recommendation. I can also see doing this and oversampling so one can eliminate the people who don’t fit the required criteria (would cost more, but takes care of a key reviewer concern).

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