a1 Princeton University
Survey research is necessary to understand media effects, but seriously impeded by considerable overreporting of news exposure, the extent of which differs across respondents. Consequently, apparent media effects may arise not because of differences in exposure, but because of differences in the accuracy of reporting exposure. Drawing on experiments embedded in two representative surveys, this study examines why many people overstate their exposure to television news. Analysis indicates that overreporting results from unrealistic demands on respondents’ memory, not their motivation to misrepresent or provide superficial answers. Satisficing and social desirability bias do not explain overreporting. Instead, imperfect recall coupled with the use of flawed inference rules causes inflated self-reports. To lower reports of news exposure and improve the validity of conclusions about media effects, researchers should help respondents with the estimation by providing population frequencies and encouraging comparison with others.
(Received August 13 2007)
(Accepted October 05 2008)
Markus Prior is assistant professor of politics and public affairs, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544.