Richard E. Lucas and Brendan M. Baird
Global self-assessment is a broad category of measurement techniques that includes many variations on a seemingly simple process—participants are asked to provide information about events, behaviors, attitudes, feelings, emotions, symptoms, or some other objective or subjective state of affairs. Simplicity and ease of administration have made self-report methodology one of the most popular methods of psychological inquiry; yet the fallibility of human memory and judgment has made this methodology the subject of much scrutiny and criticism. The skepticism about self-report methods is exacerbated by the fact that self-reports are often used when no readily available objective alternative exists that could be used as a criterion for validation (Critchfield, Tucker, & Vuchinich, 1998).
Careful investigation of the self-report method reveals that what appears to be a simple process is actually the end result of a series of more complicated steps. A number of cognitive models of self-report assessment have been proposed to clarify these steps (e.g., Schwarz, 1999; Strack & Martin, 1987; Tourangeau, Rips, & Rasinski, 2000). These models and their supporting evidence show that when answering a self-report question, respondents must first understand and interpret the question, search their memory for relevant information, construct an answer, translate that answer into a meaningful response, and then edit that response for the particular audience. These processes can be affected in undesirable ways by such factors as question wording, question order, and available response options. In turn, each process has the potential to influence the final self-reported judgment. Numerous studies have demonstrated the problems that emerge when researchers who use self-report assessment ignore the complex and sometimes surprising ways that these factors can influence the responses to self-report measures.
Yet despite the potential limitations, self-report techniques can provide useful and valid measures of many constructs. In this chapter, we discuss the reasons why one might choose to use self-reports, the various forms of self-reports that exist, the processes that underlie self-reports, and the advantages and disadvantages of this technique. We focus on steps that researchers can take to evaluate and improve the quality of their global self-assessments.
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