The Past, Present and Future of Factorial Survey Experiments: A Review for the Social Sciences

Edgar Treischl, Tobias Wolbring


Factorial survey experiments (FSEs) are increasingly used in the social sciences. This pa­per provides a review about the use of FSEs and aims to answer three research questions. (1) How has this specific research field developed over time? (2) Which methodological advances have been made in FSE research and to what degree are they applied in empiri­cal studies? (3) Which questions remain unresolved and should be addressed in future re­search? Using the Web of Science and Scopus databases, we conducted a literature review of FSEs published between 1982 and 2018. Our findings show that the field is develop­ing quickly and that FSEs are becoming increasingly accepted in different research areas. Thereby, FSEs are being widely used not only to study attitudes, but also to explore the determinants of behaviour. Most research applies state-of-the-art techniques in terms of statistical analysis; however, to a lesser extent, studies rely on more sophisticated sampling procedures to draw samples from a large vignette universe. Finally, several methodological questions remain unresolved concerning the realism and complexity of vignettes, social desirability, and the predictive validity of FSEs regarding behaviour due to their hypotheti­cal nature. Against this background, we call for more methodological research to assess the general applicability of FSEs for different research areas. Further, our review suggests the need for better documentation and reporting standards to evaluate methodological aspects of FSEs.


factorial survey experiments, methodological advances and pitfalls, predictive validity, realism of vignettes, vignette design

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