Jan Karem Höhne, Ting Yan
Investigating the impact of violations of the “left and top means first” heuristic on response behavior and data quality

International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 2020: 23, issue 3, pp. 347-353
ISSN: 1364-5579 (print), 1464-5300 (online)

Web surveys are an established data collection mode that use written language to provide information. The written language is accompanied by visual elements, such as presentation formats and shapes. However, research has shown that visual elements influence response behavior because respondents sometimes use interpretive heuristics to make sense of the visual elements. One such heuristic is the ‘left and top means first’ (LTMF) heuristic, which suggests that respondents tend to believe that a response scale consistently runs from left to right or from top to bottom. We conducted a web survey experiment to investigate how violations of the LTMF heuristic affect response behavior and data quality. For this purpose, a random half of respondents received response options that followed a consistent order and the other half received response options that followed an inconsistent order. The results reveal significantly different response distributions between the two groups. We also found that inconsistently ordered response options significantly increase response times and decrease data quality in terms of criterion validity. We, therefore, recommend using options that follow the design strategies of the LTMF heuristic.