Can Personality Predict Survey Response Rates?

Topic(s): personality
Publication: Journal of Organizational Behavior (2011)
Article: Genetic underpinnings of survey response
Authors: L.F. Thompson, Z. Zhang, R.D. Arvey
Reviewed by: Larry Martinez

Not many people like surveys.  Employees and participants don’t like taking them and survey administrators don’t like bothering people with them.  Nevertheless, the fact of the matter is that organizational practitioners and researchers alike live and breathe on data obtained through surveys.  And no matter how we try to coax people into taking our surveys, it is virtually impossible to obtain that coveted 100% voluntary response rate on any given survey.


Much research has been conducted to help determine what factors are related to whether someone will respond to a survey – both environmental and personality characteristics have been identified.  However, Thompson and colleagues (2011) go even deeper for an explanation, into our genes. The logic goes like this: we know that personality characteristics such as conscientiousness and agreeableness are related to survey response rates, and these personality characteristics have genetic underpinnings; thus, genetic influences should help explain part of survey response behavior.

Using data from the Minnesota Twin Registry, these authors found that, indeed, a whopping 45% of the variability in survey response was explained by genetic factors alone. This is especially impressive considering that, until now, the two most powerful predictors of survey response, prior notification and monetary incentive, explain only around 3% of variability.


There is obviously much research that still needs to be done in this area, most notably trying to figure out which genes are related to survey response. However, possibly more importantly than the actual results of the study (which are impressive), this articles is a first step in a direction in which genes play a role in organizational research and possibly organizational decision-making.  The futuristic world depicted in the 1997 film Gattaca in which DNA tests obviate cognitive ability tests, personality inventories, and interviews as selection criteria may not be as much science fiction as it used to be.


Thompson, L. F., Zhang, Z., & Arvey, R. D. (2011). Genetic underpinnings of survey response. Journal of Organizational Behavior. 32, 395-412.

Image credit: istockphoto/AndreyPopov