Learn More about Social Desirability

Social desirability is a defensive tendency to avoid criticism and to depict oneself as conforming to social norms. The presence of social desirability may be seen as early as childhood and adolescence. Social approval, which is subtly different from social desirability, is the desire to seek a positive response, particularly in testing situations. Both social desirability and social approval are conceptualized as permanent traits.

In dietary assessment, respondents may be concerned that researchers will judge their reported dietary intakes. This effect may be heightened with interviewer-administration of the dietary assessment instrument. Participants with higher social desirability and social approval may tend to overreport "good" foods and underreport "bad" foods. The wide coverage of prescriptive dietary advice is likely to trigger social desirability and social approval bias among the general population. The effects on misreporting may be heightened even more in dietary intervention studies. The Marlowe-Crowne social desirability questions and/or the Martin-Larsen social approval questions can be administered to identify and control for subjects prone to these traits.

For More Information

Fischer DG, Fick C. Measuring social desirability: short forms of the Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale. Educ. Psychol Meas 1993;53:417-24.

Hebert JR, Ebbeling CB, Matthews CE, Hurley TG, MA Y, Druker S, Clemow L. Systematic errors in middle-aged women's estimates of energy intake: comparing three self-report measures to total energy expenditure from doubly labeled water. Ann Epidemiol 2002 Nov;12(8):577-86. [View Abstract]

Hebert JR, Ma Y, Clemow L, Ockene IS, Saperia G, Stanek EJ 3rd, Merriam PA, Ockene JK. Gender differences in social desirability and social approval bias in dietary self-report. Am J Epidemiol 1997 Dec 15;146(12):1046-55. [View Abstract]

H├ębert JR, Peterson KE, Hurley TG, Stoddard AM, Cohen N, Field AE, Sorensen G. The effect of social desirability trait on self-reported dietary measures among multi-ethnic female health center employees. Ann Epidemiol 2001 Aug;11(6):417-27. [View Abstract]

Horner NK, Patterson RE, Neuhouser ML, Lampe JW, Beresford SA, Prentice RL. Participant characteristics associated with errors in self-reported energy intake from the Women's Health Initiative food-frequency questionnaire. Am J Clin Nutr 2002 Oct;76(4):766-73. [View Abstract]

Livingstone MB, Robson PJ. Measurement of dietary intake in children. Proc Nutr Soc 2000 May;59(2):279-93. Review. [View Abstract]

Marlowe D, Crowne DP. Social desirability and response to perceived situational demands. J Consult Psychol 1961 Apr;25:109-15. [Look up in PubMed]

Martin HJ. A revised measure of approval motivation and its relationship to social desirability. J Pers Assess 1984 Oct;48(5):508-19. [View Abstract]

Maurer J, Taren DL, Teixeira PJ, Thomson CA, Lohman TG, Going SB, Houtkooper LB. The psychosocial and behavioral characteristics related to energy misreporting. Nutr Rev 2006 Feb;64(2 Pt 1):53-66. Review. [View Abstract]

Novotny JA, Rumpler WV, Riddick H, Hebert JR, Rhodes D, Judd JT, Baer DJ, McDowell M, Briefel R. Personality characteristics as predictors of underreporting of energy intake on 24-hour dietary recall interviews. J Am Diet Assoc 2003 Sep;103(9):1146-51. [View Abstract]

Taren DL, Tobar M, Hill A, Howell W, Shisslak C, Bell I, Ritenbaugh C. The association of energy intake bias with psychological scores of women. Eur J Clin Nutr 1999 Jul;53(7):570-8. [View Abstract]

Tooze JA, Subar AF, Thompson FE, Troiano R, Schatzkin A, Kipnis V. Psychosocial predictors of energy underreporting in a large doubly labeled water study. Am J Clin Nutr 2004 May;79(5):795-804. [View Abstract]

Vuckovic N, Ritenbaugh C, Taren DL, Tobar M. A qualitative study of participants' experiences with dietary assessment. J Am Diet Assoc 2000 Sep;100(9):1023-8. [View Abstract]