There is little doubt that human behavior is affected by genetic and biological characteristics (e.g., Bouchard & McGue, 2003; Dick & Rose, 2002; Plomin, DeFries, Craig, & McGuffin, 2003; Sherman et al., 1997). Heritable traits, attitudes, values, and interests influence a variety of behaviors, many of which are demonstrated in the workplace. To date, research in behavioral genetics has advanced our understanding of between-individual differences in a number of organizationally relevant domains such as leadership (Arvey, Zhang, Avolio, & Krueger, 2007; Zhang, Ilies, & Arvey, 2009), vocational interests (Lykken, Bouchard, McGue, & Tellegen, 1993), entrepreneurship (Zhang, Zyphur, et al., 2009), and job satisfaction (Arvey, Bouchard, Segal, & Abraham, 1989). Such knowledge is needed to guide the development of nomological models explaining attitudes and behaviors at work (Ilies, Arvey, & Bouchard, 2006).
Survey response and nonresponse are practically important work behaviors which could benefit from an expanded research agenda in general, and a behavioral genetic examination in particular. Research and practice in organizational behavior (OB) often hinges on self-reports of attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and personal characteristics. New technologies (e.g., web-based surveys, machine scannable paper forms, and text mining software) have enabled notable advances in survey design, distribution, and analysis (Poncheri, Lindberg, Thompson, & Surface, 2008; Thompson, Surface, Martin, & Sanders, 2003). As a result, surveys are an increasingly popular data collection tool in organizations and elsewhere (Church & Waclawski, 1998; Kraut, 1996). Unfortunately, this growing reliance on surveys appears to be accompanied by declining response rates (Baruch, 1999; Dey, 1997; Schwartz, Groves, & Schuman, 1998). Poor response rates can lead to a variety of problems (Rogelberg, Luong, Sederburg, & Cristol, 2000). For example, large numbers of nonrespondents can produce small sample sizes, resulting in a lack of statistical power needed to perform needed analyses. More importantly, survey nonresponse raises concerns about nonresponse bias, which occurs when survey requests are ignored by people who differ from respondents on the study variables of interest. The result is data that paint an inaccurate picture of the overall population's standing on the variables studied (Luong & Rogelberg, 1998; Rogelberg et al., 2000). In short, the increasing reliance on surveys coupled with the serious consequences of nonresponse creates a pressing need to better understand the tendency to comply with or ignore requests for survey participation.
Heritable determinants of survey response
Beyond the situational determinants of survey response (e.g., Rogelberg & Stanton, 2007; Yammarino, Skinner, & Childers, 1991), several dispositional traits, attitudes, and perceptions have been shown to influence compliance with survey requests. Because these personal characteristics are to some extent genetically influenced, they may carry these influences through to survey response behavior. With regard to traits, research has suggested that high achievers are especially inclined to respond to voluntary surveys in an academic setting (Dey, 1997; Sax, Gilmartin, & Bryant, 2003). Other personality variables have been shown to account for both passive and active forms of nonresponse (Rogelberg et al., 2003). Passive nonresponse occurs due to happenstance, such as when survey recipients misplace or forget to complete surveys they may have otherwise intended to fill out. Rogelberg et al. (2003) have shown that passive nonrespondents are less conscientious than those who complete surveys upon request.
Active nonrespondents make an overt, conscious, a priori decision to withhold their participation at the time in which they receive a survey (Rogelberg et al., 2003). Compared to those who complete surveys, active nonrespondents are more “reciprocation wary”—that is, they are more likely to have a personality disposition which prompts them to feel exploited in social exchange relationships (Spitzmüller, Glenn, Barr, Rogelberg, & Daniel, 2006). Furthermore, active nonrespondents tend to be less conscientious than survey respondents, and some evidence suggests they are also less agreeable (Rogelberg et al., 2003; Rogelberg, Spitzmüller, Little, & Reeve, 2006). Personality characteristics, including conscientiousness and agreeableness, have been shown to be substantially heritable (Loehlin, 1992). A genetic component to active and passive survey nonresponse therefore appears likely.
Another factor driving active nonresponse is attitudes toward the survey sponsor. Active nonrespondents tend to be less satisfied than respondents with the institution or organization sponsoring the survey (Rogelberg et al., 2003). Such satisfaction may have genetic underpinnings because personality, which is heritable, is thought to predispose individuals to particular interpretations of events (Judge, Heller, & Mount, 2002). In effect, genetically influenced interpretations of previous encounters with the survey sponsor may impact satisfaction which can in turn affect survey participation. People also have a predisposition toward evaluating their environment (e.g., interactions with the survey sponsor) in ways that are consistent with their affective disposition (Hershberger, Lichtenstein, & Knox, 1994). Affectivity, which has been shown to be heritable (Finkel & McGue, 1997; Tellegen, Lykken, Bouchard, Wilcox, Segal, & Rich, 1988), may thus shape perceptions of the survey sponsor's shortcomings and subsequently discourage survey response behavior.
Similarly, job satisfaction has been linked to the willingness to respond to OB surveys. Research addressing this point has focused on the attitudes of employees who indicate they would refuse to complete a work-related survey if asked to do so. These “noncompliants” hold negative attitudes—not only toward their organizations, but also toward their jobs (Rogelberg et al., 2000). Meanwhile, data from several samples have indicted that genetic factors may explain as much as 30% of the variance in job satisfaction (Arvey et al., 1989; Arvey, McCall, Bouchard, Taubman & Cavanaugh, 1994).
In general, OB researchers have successfully argued that survey participation is a form of helping behavior (e.g., Rogelberg et al., 2006; Spitzmüller, Glenn, Sutton, Barr, & Rogelberg, 2007, Spitzmüller et al., 2006). Often, applied OB surveys are initiated by a prospective respondent's employer and specifically designed for the good of the organization. In such cases, survey response can be considered a form of organizational citizenship behavior (e.g., Youssefnia, 2000). Other times, surveys are initiated by OB researchers who are external to the organization for the purpose of scientific inquiry (e.g., Allen, 2003; Major, Fletcher, Davis, & Germano, 2008). Responses to such surveys may be considered a more general form of prosocial or helping behavior which contributes to the well-being of the researcher, science, and society. Behavioral genetics research has found that genetic factors influence the propensity of people to help (e.g., Knafo & Plomin, 2006; Matthews, Batson, Horn, & Rosenman, 1981; Rushton, Fulker, Neale, Nias, & Eysenck, 1986). As a form of helping behavior, responses to OB surveys conducted for research and/or practice should thus be genetically influenced.
In summary, many of the traits and attitudes that have been empirically linked to survey participation have been shown to be heritable. Genetics could influence survey response through factors such as personality (e.g., conscientiousness, agreeableness), affectivity, attitudes toward the sponsoring organization, and job satisfaction. Moreover, voluntary survey participation can be conceptualized as a helping/prosocial behavior, and prosocial behavioral tendencies have been shown to be heritable. Thus, genetics are expected to affect survey response. The present study tests the hypothesis that survey response behavior is genetically influenced.