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An expanded Web version of segments seen on CNN

Teens prefer 'telling all' to computers

The survey finds that teens confide more in computer tests than on written ones  
May 14, 1998
Web posted at: 10:15 a.m. EDT (1415 GMT)

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, North Carolina (CNN) -- Teen-agers are more likely to admit to risky behavior when answering questionnaires in a computer than when filling out a written survey, researchers say.

Charles Turner, Director of Research Triangle Institute's health and behavior measurement program, told CNN that there were significant differences when comparing computer surveys with written questionnaires. icon 60 K / 5 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

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"I was so surprised that I was nervous publishing the results," Turner said of the surveys on sex, drugs and violence. icon 51 K / 4 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

The computer-collected findings of a survey of 1,500 teen-age boys in the United States were recently published in the journal Science. The study included the following responses.

1) Boys who admitted to some type of male-male sex:
Written questionnaire: 1.5 percent
Computer-assisted self interview: 5.5 percent

2) Boys who admitted using crack cocaine in past 12 months:
Written questionnaire: 6.0 percent
Computer-assisted self-interview: 3.3 percent

3) Boys who admitted carrying a gun in the past month:
Written questionnaire: 7.9 percent
Computer-assisted self-interview: 12.4 percent

One student tells CNN the importance of receiving information on sensitive issues
icon 68 K / 5 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

Teen-agers who counsel their peers on preventing AIDS say they know how bold and fearless some of their classmates can be, as many teen-agers think they're invulnerable.

Researchers say that the results of the computer surveys are also significant for older age groups, since many people are reluctant to provide information about their private lives.

Recent studies, for instance, have shown that only about 30 percent of women who have had an abortion will say so when surveyed in a traditional format. Computer-gathered data could therefore provide a much more accurate picture of certain types of behavior.

Turner told CNN that he hopes the new survey method will catch on fast, especially among researchers who deal with society's most personal issues.

Correspondent Marsha Walton contributed to this report.


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