Informant accuracy in social-network data V. An experimental attempt to predict actual communication from recall data

H. Russell Bernard, Peter D. Killworth, Lee Sailer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

192 Scopus citations


This paper seeks to discover whether the known inaccuracy of informant recall about their communication behavior can be accounted for by experimentally varying the time period over which recall takes place. The experiment took advantage of a new communications medium (computer conferencing) which enabled us to monitor automatically all the interactions involving a subset of the computer network. The experiment itself was administered entirely by the computer, which interviewed informants and recorded their responses. Variations in time period failed to account for much of the inaccuracy, which continues, as in previous experiments at an unacceptably high level. One positive finding did emerge: although the informants did not know with whom they communicated, the informants en masse seemed to know certain broad facts about the communication pattern. All other findings were negative. For example, it is impossible to predict the people an informant claimed to communicate with but did not; and it is impossible to predict who the five people are that an informant forgot to mention that she or he had communication with. Thus, despite their presumed good intentions, our findings here confirm what we have learned from six previous experiments: What people say about their communications bears no resemblance to their behavior. This suggests that other forms of data gathering, based on questions which require that informants recall their behavior, may well be suspect.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)30-66
Number of pages37
JournalSocial Science Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1982
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science


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