Using Factorial Surveys to Study Sociobehavioral Phenomena



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 of the factorial survey 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 talk, building on Jasso (2006, 2020) will provide 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 talk will next introduce basic methods for factorial survey data collection and data analysis, and finally consider current challenges, especially those posed by variation across individuals, languages, and countries.


Guillermina Jasso (PhD, Johns Hopkins) is Silver Professor of Arts and Science and Professor of Sociology at New York University. Her major substantive interests are inequality, distributive justice, status, international migration, and language, topics on which she has done both theoretical and empirical research. Her major methodological interests are mathematical methods and probability distributions for theoretical analysis and factorial survey methods for empirical analysis. Her contributions include a mathematical formula for fairness assessment, a formula showing how overall injustice can be decomposed into injustice due to poverty and injustice due to inequality, and two new families of probability distributions.

Jasso is an elected member/fellow of the Johns Hopkins Society of Scholars, the Sociological Research Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She was a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (1999-2000) and is a Research Associate at the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston; an External Research Fellow at CReAM at University College London; a Fellow at the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality; a member of the HCEO Network on Inequality Measurement, Interpretation, and Policy; and a Fellow at DIW Berlin. Jasso has served on many national and international advisory boards, including panels advising the U.S. National Science Foundation, the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the U.S. National Research Council, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, the Scientific Advisory Board of DIW Berlin, and the U.S. Census Scientific Advisory Committee, of which she was Chair in 2011-2015. Jasso won the 2015 Paul F. Lazarsfeld Distinguished Career Award and the 2022 James S. Coleman Distinguished Career Award, given, respectively, by the Methodology Section and the Mathematical Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association.

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