Ageing and Society

Submitted Articles

Social desirability does not confound reports of wellbeing or of socio-demographic attributes by older women

SHARRON E. DAWESa1, BARTON W. PALMERa1a2 c1, MATTHEW A. ALLISONa1, THEODORE G. GANIATSa1 and DILIP V. JESTEa1

a1 Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego, California, USA.

a2 San Diego Veterans Medical Research Foundation, San Diego, California, USA.

ABSTRACT

This study assesses the relationship of social desirability response bias with self-reported physical, mental and cognitive health, successful ageing, and socio-demographic attributes among 1,860 older women at the University of California, San Diego's Clinical Center for the Women's Health Initiative and the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging. The women were aged between 57 and 91 years and lived in the San Diego community. Measures included a ten-item Marlowe–Crowne Social Desirability Scale, and self-report scales of physical, mental and cognitive health, successful ageing and wellbeing, as well as standard socio-demographic attributes. Bivariate correlation and multiple regression models indicated that social desirability scores negatively associated with self-reported levels of hostility, anxiety, perceived stress and self-reported cognitive failures, and that they predicted additional variance in multiple regression analyses above models containing socio-demographic predictors alone. On the other hand, even the strongest associations were what are generally considered ‘small effects’ (r<0.30). Overall, while the findings support the general validity of most of the self-report measures in studies of normal and successful ageing, consideration of social desirability response bias in the interpretation of self-reports of low levels of some key constructs (anxiety, hostility, stress, self-perceived cognitive deficits) is warranted.

(Accepted September 17 2010)

(Online publication November 22 2010)

Correspondence:

c1 Address for correspondence: Barton W. Palmer, Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive #0603v, La Jolla, CA 92093-0603, USA. E-mail: bpalmer@ucsd.edu