How much trust can we have in responses about individual participation in crime as an offender gathered by social surveys?
Social surveys are described within the academic literature as consisting of systematic, structured questions. These can be used in the form of both self-completion questionnaires and face to face interviews (Payne and Payne 2004). Lynch and Addington (2010) note that most data that is currently used within criminological research derives from the collection of figures from social surveys such as self-reports of offending and victimisation studies. Lynch and Addington (2010) expand that the collection of self-reports of offending are used to identify predictors of offending and establish theories as to why certain individuals have a propensity to offend, whilst others do not. The aim of this assignment is to determine if responses from the participants of social surveys can be deemed as trustworthy and valid. For the purpose of this assignment, social surveys shall refer to self-reports of offending including self-completion questionnaires and face to face interviews.
It is suggested in the work of Thornberry and Krohn (2000) that when conducting surveys of self-report offending, there is no choice of method that is significantly superior. However, one may suggestargue that some methodological approaches may produce different results to others, and therefore affect the trustworthiness of responses. When conducting face to face interviews, it is argued by DiCicco-Bloom and Crabtree (2006) that a sense of rapport can result in respondents answering freely and honestly. This can result in offenders providing details of offending that may not occur under other circumstances. However, face to face interviews are also suggested to have negative effects on responses. Bryman (2008) notes that responses may be biased due to social desirability, in which participants answer in accordance to what they believe is the correct response. The second methodological approach of self-completion questionnaires arguably attempts to overcome such issues. Self-completed questionnaires arguably reduce the possibility of interviewer effect (Junger-Tas and Marshall 1999). Self-completed questionnaires allow for privacy and anonymity of results. This is argued to positively affect results, with respondents feeling more inclined to admit criminality (Junger-Tas and Marshall 1999). However, issues may arise in relation to literacy and competency (Bryman 2008). Bryman notes that illiteracy may result in misunderstanding and the input of incorrect data. As interviewers are not there to prompt, little can be done to prevent the affect upon validity. CASI (Computer Assisted Self-administered Interview) is arguably seen as the method with greatest strengths, and highest rates of admittance of offending (Thornberry and Krohn 2000). Privacy remains, whilst personal headphones allow questions to be read to participants, whilst answers are confidentially entered into a laptop (Thornberry and Krohn). Issues of reliability and consistency of responses can be tested through the use of computer aids. Roberts and Horney (2010) suggestargue that computers are able to automatically cross reference responses to assess validity and consistency. It is contendedargued that such methods increase the trustworthiness of social survey results.
Age is claimedargued to be an influential factor in the validation of responses. Kollmar et al (1998) note that adolescents are less inclined to share private information with adults, with the preference of confiding in peers. One may argue that this unwillingness may be related to the idea of getting into trouble with authorative figures. However, Junger-Tas and Marshall (1999) contradict this view. They imply that adults are most likely to lie or withhold key data as they perceive as having more to lose, whilst adolescents are more willing to admit criminality. Age is also identified by Krohn et al...
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