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Public Opin Q. 2013;77(Suppl 1):69-88.

"Up Means Good": The Effect of Screen Position on Evaluative Ratings in Web Surveys.

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Roger Tourangeau is a Vice President at Westat, Rockville, MD, USA, and co-director of the Survey Methodology Unit there. Mick P. Couper and Frederick G. Conrad are Research Professors at the University of Michigan's Survey Research Center, Ann Arbor, MI, USA, and at the Joint Program in Survey Methodology at the University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA. The work reported here was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation [SES-0106222 to R.T., M.P.C., F.G.C., and Reg Baker] and the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development [R01 HD041386-01A1 to R.T., M.P.C., F.G.C., and Reg Baker]. Neither the National Science Foundation nor the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development is responsible for the conclusions presented here. We are grateful to Reg Baker for his contributions to the design and implementation of these experiments, and to Jenna Fulton, Hanyu Sun, and Cong Ye for their work on the meta-analysis.


This paper presents results from six experiments that examine the effect of the position of an item on the screen on the evaluative ratings it receives. The experiments are based on the idea that respondents expect "good" things-those they view positively-to be higher up on the screen than "bad" things. The experiments use items on different topics (Congress and HMOs, a variety of foods, and six physician specialties) and different methods for varying their vertical position on the screen. A meta-analysis of all six experiments demonstrates a small but reliable effect of the item's screen position on mean ratings of the item; the ratings are significantly more positive when the item appears in a higher position on the screen than when it appears farther down. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that respondents follow the "Up means good" heuristic, using the vertical position of the item as a cue in evaluating it. Respondents seem to rely on heuristics both in interpreting response scales and in forming judgments.

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