Testing the decoy effect to improve online survey participation: Evidence from a field experiment

Stoffel, Sandro T., Yining, Sun, Hirst, Yasemin orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-0167-9428, von Wagner, Christian and Vlaev, Ivo (2023) Testing the decoy effect to improve online survey participation: Evidence from a field experiment. Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics, 107 . ISSN 2214-8043

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socec.2023.102103


As low participation and retention in online survey participation decrease confidence in its results, traditional research has focused on ways to optimize the survey structure and design. So far, no study has tested the decoy effect (i.e. offering an inferior decoy option to increase the attractiveness of the target option) to increase survey participation. In a field experiment with 203 students, we tested the effectiveness of adding a decoy questionnaire to the choice set to improve online survey participation. The decoy questionnaire featured open-ended instead of close-ended questions and delayed remuneration (1 week vs. 4 weeks). We found that the presence of the decoy questionnaire increased the probability of the target questionnaire being completed from 32.7 % to 55.9 %. Furthermore, while the decoy did not affect response behavior or cause non-response bias, a significant order effect was observed. When the target questionnaire was presented before the decoy, the participation was 82.7 % in comparison to 28.0 % when the decoy was presented first. This study is the first to test the decoy effect in the context of aiming to improve survey participation. These findings offer a ‘proof of principle’ that decoys have the potential to increase participation without negatively influencing question response behavior.

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