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I am working on a design for a formal registration service that demands users categorise themselves according to a closed list of options. The list is not exhaustive, so some users don't see an option that works for them. However, user testing shows some reluctance to hit the 'none of the above' option. I'm wondering if the negative precept in the 'none of the above' wording has been explored anywhere? Is there any literature that explores the distinction between a negative 'None of the Above' and a more affirmative "A different option" (or equivalent). Can anyone point me in a useful direction? Thanks!

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    Only a personal POV, but as I commented on this question, I'm more hesitant to proceed if there isn't a "none of the above". Perhaps the "time spent hesitating" is just in evaluating whether any of the canned options are "close enough" or whether the need to use the NOTA option. – TripeHound Nov 29 '19 at 14:12
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    Of possible related interest: This is the optimum way to compile a multiple-choice test reports research that does advocate against including "none of the above", but that is in the context of "multiple-choice tests for learning and assessment"... while their reasons for not including it seem reasonable for a test, I don't think they carry over user registration/categorisation. – TripeHound Nov 29 '19 at 14:23
  • Thanks for your help @TripeHound. With hindsight I should've been more explicit about what we're doing. Without boring you with the detail, my question should've been more explicit that it's the wording that is my real point of interest. I'm wondering if a more affirmative "I specialise in a different area" or some equivalent would help to take some of the stress out of this step. I'll edit the question - thanks again. – Will TURNER Nov 29 '19 at 18:27
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I could see a couple of things happening here:

  1. Saying "None of the above" could signal the user that he doesn't fit into typical categories of whatever you are trying to distinguish. Not fitting generally invokes negative feelings such as feelings of exclusion or not being understood by your environment.

  2. "None of the above" could send the user into re-thinking his decision , ie. reading through all of them again to make sure he doesn't fit into any of the categories provided before he select his answer.

  3. Giving a term for all other categories that are not listed ( "None of the above" ) can confuse the user in a way where he isn't sure if he can stretch his definition to fit categories listed or he has to go with the "None of the above". Am I really a senior developer? Am I really happy in everyday life? Do I do enough for the environment?

Things that I could see helping:

  • Make your categories more clear cut or add a small description for the categories. Example.

How much experience do you have?

  1. Senior ( 10+ years)
  2. Intermediate ( 5-10 years )
  3. None of the above
  • Instead "None of the above" add the option of adding an extra input field where the user can insert his term. On the backend you can choose to treat this as a "None of the above" but the user doesn't need to know.
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It could be a weird inversed effect of Negativy Bias, as the working hypothesis could be related to the idea that respondents liley associate 'none of the above' as a failure and feel compelled to evaluate the question proposed with weighted attention.

"..people combine information, they weigh negative information more heavily than positive; i.e., that the whole is evaluated more negatively than the average of its parts.." - David E. Kanouse (1984) ,"Explaining Negativity Biases in Evaluation and Choice Behavior: Theory and Research", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 11, eds. Thomas C. Kinnear, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 703-708.

There is likely no silver bullet "research" here that supports the context in which you are stating, but i'd wager that the likely reason for 'none of the above' being a false negative is that the answer is doing its job, meaning it is likely encouraging the user to evaluate the question being more closely and of higher importance for fear of failure.

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I believe the restraint comes from people not wanting to be no one. One solution for this is to give an option to describe oneself.

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You can then collect this data or group all manual entries as "other" on the backend.

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