Thumbnail Image

Nonverbal response cards reduce socially desirable reporting of violence among adolescents in rural Burkina Faso: A randomized controlled trial

Harling, G.
Bountogo, M.
Sié, A.
Bärnighausen, T.
Lindstrom, D.P.
Purpose: Accurate measures of violence are difficult to obtain from self-reported data because of stigmatization and social undesirability of the topic. Most methods that attempt to reduce such biases require literacy and either remove the benefits of interviewer guidance or do not give individual-level results. We tested a low-tech nonverbal response card that avoids revealing interviewees' responses to interviewers while retaining interviewer support among adolescents in communities with very low educational attainment. Methods: As part of a broader health questionnaire, we asked a sample of 1,644 adolescents, aged 12-20 years, in northwestern Burkina Faso about their experiences of physical and sexual violence. We randomized participants to either a conventional verbal response arm or a nonverbal response card arm where respondents' answers were unspoken and not displayed to interviewers. We first evaluated response validity and reliability in each arm, then compared prevalence rates across arms and evaluated whether any differences varied by respondent characteristics using regression models. Results: The level of internal reliability of responses among nonverbal respondents was similar to or greater than that of verbal respondents. Nonverbal respondents reported similar patterns of physical assault and sexual debut as verbal respondents but significantly higher levels of sexual assault and forced sex. These differences were broadly similar across sample subgroups defined by age, gender, proneness to social desirability, and mental health. Conclusions: Nonverbal response cards offer a practical and beneficial method for reducing underreporting of stigmatized and traumatic experiences while maintaining data quality in low-literacy populations.
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Research Projects
Organizational Units
Journal Issue
Physical violence,Sexual violence,Social desirability bias,Adolescent health
Harling G, Bountogo M, Sié A, Bärnighausen T, Lindstrom DP. Nonverbal Response Cards Reduce Socially Desirable Reporting of Violence Among Adolescents in Rural Burkina Faso: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Adolesc Health. 2021 May;68(5):914-921. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2020.09.006.
Embedded videos