The Journal of Social Psychology, 1984, 123, 133-134.
THE RELIABILITY OF SHORT SOCIAL DESIRABILITY SCALES*
University of New South Wales, Australia
JOHN J. RAY
Short forms of the Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability scale have been proposed by Strahan and Gerbasi and by Greenwald and Satow (1). Both have suggested that such scales have satisfactory internal consistency and reliability. O'Gorman (2), however, reported findings on the Strahan and Gerbasi short forms derived from responses of Australian Army conscripts, which cast doubt on the viability of such short forms. Reliabilities (alpha) of .16, .21, and .36 were reported for 10-, 10-, and 20--item forms of the scale. Such reliabilities make any scale unusable. O'Gorman's data, however, may have been atypical. Although the army conscripts should have formed a sample far more representative in intellectual, educational, and socioeconomic terms than the usual "sample" of college students, this advantage may have been outweighed by atypical social desirability responding due to the peculiar institutional position of the Ss. This suspicion is supported by the fact that the alpha for the full 33-item Marlowe-Crowne scale in O'Gorman's data was only .46. Data from less coerced general population Ss might yield quite different results. Such data are reported below.
Eight items (Nos. 6, 13, 15, 16, 19, 21, 34, and 35) from the original scale were selected according to the analyses of Greenwald and Satow. All but three of these were also used by Strahan and Gerbasi. They were first administered to a random cluster sample of 95 Ss living in the Sydney metropolitan area, Australia. Details can be found elsewhere (3). The reliability (alpha) for the eight-item scale was .77. As items 35 and 15 were very similar in content to 16 and 34, the former pair were deleted and the scale readministered to a random mail-out survey of the Australian state of New South Wales (N = 122 ) (4). The alpha for the six-item scale was .60. While this was not a bad outcome for such a short scale, it was a low reliability. The six-item scale was therefore recast from the "I behave" to the "Do you behave?" format and readministered to a Sydney community sample of 87 Ss (5). The alpha was .77. The next step examined the translatability of the short scales. Items 35 and 15 were reincluded and all items were cast in the "Do you behave?" format. They were translated into German and administered to a random doorstep cluster sample of 136 Ss in Munich, West Germany (6). The alpha was .65. For comparison, the same eight items, which had been scattered throughout the questionnaire, were administered (in English) to a random mail-out sample of 214 Ss in New South Wales (7). The alpha was .74. In the next survey (a random doorstep sample of 200 Sydney Ss) (8) the eight items were presented in a block -- in the order 15, 34, 16, 35, 19, 6, 21, and 13. The alpha was again .74.
It must, therefore, be concluded that, despite O'Gorman's results, short Social Desirability scales may have satisfactory alphas with general population samples. The eight items listed above, even when recast into "Do you behave?" format, seem particularly recommendable. O'Gorman's results may then simply show the effect of coercion on social-desirability responding.
1. Strahan, R., & Gerbasi, K. C. Short, homogeneous versions of the Marlowe-Crowne social desirability scale. J. Clin. Psychol., 1972, 28, 191-193; Greenwald, H. J., & Satow, Y. A short social desirability scale. Psychol. Rep., 1970, 27, 131-135.
2. O'Gorman, J. G. Limits. to the generality of the Marlowe-Crowne measure of social desirability. J. Clin. Psychol., 1974, 30, 81:
3. Ray, J.J. (1981) Do authoritarian attitudes or authoritarian personality reflect mental illness? S. African J. Psychology
4. Ray, J.J. & Bozek, R.S. (1980) Dissecting the A-B personality type. British Journal of Medical Psychology 53, 181-186.
5. Ray, J.J. (1979) The authoritarian as measured by a personality scale Solid citizen or misfit? J. Clinical Psychology 35, 744-746.
6. Ray, J.J. & Kiefl, W. (1984) Authoritarianism and achievement motivation in contemporary West Germany. Journal of Social Psychology, 122, 3-19.
7. Ray, J.J. & Lovejoy, F.H. (1984) The great androgyny myth: Sex roles and mental health in the community at large. J. Social Psychology 124, 237-246.
8. Ray, J.J. (1984) Attitude to abortion, attitude to life and
conservatism in Australia. Sociology & Social Research 68, 236-246.
University of New South Wales School of Sociology, P.O. Box 1, Kensington, N.S.W., Australia 2033
* Received in the Editorial Office, Provincetown, Massachusetts, on April 7, 1983. Copyright, 1984, by The Journal Press.
For convenience, the items of the shortened Crowne & Marlowe (1964) Social Desirability scale are given below. The "honest" responses are marked 'R'. Such items earn a score of 1 for 'Yes' and 3 for "No'. The same answers for the other items earn scores of 3 and 1 respectively. "?" or "Not sure" or no answer is scored 2 on all occasions.
1. Have there been occasions when you took advantage of someone? R
2. Have you sometimes taken unfair advantage of another person? R
3. Are you always willing to admit when you make a mistake?
4. Are you quick to admit making a mistake?
5. Do you sometimes try to get even rather than forgive and forget? R
6. Do you sometimes feel resentful when you don't get you own way? R
7. Are you always courteous, even to people who are disagreeable?
8. Are you always a good listener, no matter whom you are talking to?
The full form of the Marlowe-Crowne scale can be found here or here
In response to a request, the Items of the social desirability scale as I used them in Germany are below
"Ja" to items 35, 36, 39 and 40 gets a low score (1)
"Ja" to the other items gets a high score (3)
"Not sure " is scored 2
The scale score is the sum of the item scores
Crowne, D.P. & Marlowe, D. (1964) The approval motive N.Y.: Wiley.
Replication is one of the cornerstones of science. A new research result will normally require replication by later researchers before the truth and accuracy of the observation concerned is generally accepted. If a result is to be replicated, however, careful specification of the original research procedure is important.
In questionnaire research it has been my observation that the results are fairly robust as to questionnaire format. It is the content of the question that matters rather than how the question is presented (But see here and here). It is nonetheless obviously desirable for an attempted replication to follow the original procedure as closely as possible so I have given here samples of how I presented my questionnaires in most of the research I did. On all occasions, respondents were asked to circle a number to indicate their response.
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