Factorial Survey


The factorial survey—pioneered by Peter H. Rossi and developed with associates and subsequently by new generations of scholars around the world—is a tool for exploring and analyzing people’s ideas about a wide range of sociobehavioral phenomena, including ideas about the way the world works and the way the world ought to work, as well as obligations, trust, and recommendations, among others. To illustrate, people form ideas about the causes of healthiness and happiness, the just compensation for workers and the just returns to their characteristics, and the desirability as immigrants of visa applicants with differing characteristics and from different origin countries. These ideas are conceptualized as input–outcome relations and formalized by equations. The goal is to uncover these equations-inside-the-head, producing estimates with the best possible statistical properties and assessing the extent of agreements and disagreements across individuals and subgroups. This entry provides an introduction to the factorial survey, beginning with its prehistory in comments on Rossi’s dissertation by his adviser Paul F. Lazarsfeld about presenting to respondents vignettes describing fictitious families with varying characteristics and continuing with Rossi’s key insights about combining the experimental control of factorial experiments with the richness of social surveys to construct many and diverse fictitious persons and thus heighten the resemblance between real and experimental worlds and enable sharp estimation of people’s ideas. The entry next introduces basic methods for factorial survey data collection and data analysis and finally considers current challenges, especially those posed by variation across individuals, languages, and countries.

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