Socially desirable responding in geriatric outpatients with and without mild cognitive impairment and its association with the assessment of self-reported mental health

Paola Nicolini, Carlo Abbate, Silvia Inglese, Daniela Mari, Paolo D. Rossi, Matteo Cesari

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Socially desirable responding is a potentially relevant issue in older adults and can be evaluated with the Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale (MCSDS). However, the eight-item MCSDS has never been specifically administered to geriatric subjects, and there is a dearth of literature on the relationship between social desirability and cognitive impairment. Also, the connection between social desirability and subjective measures of psychological well-being is a matter of controversy. This study has three main aims. First, to determine the psychometric properties of the eight-item MCSDS in geriatric outpatients without dementia (i.e. with normal cognition (NC) or mild cognitive impairment (MCI)). Second, to investigate the link between social desirability and cognitive functioning. Third, to determine the association between social desirability and the assessment of self-reported mental health. Methods: Community-dwelling outpatients (aged ≥ 65) were consecutively recruited and neuropsychologically tested to diagnose NC or MCI (n = 299). Social desirability was assessed with the eight-item MCSDS. Depressive and anxiety symptoms were measured with the short Geriatric Depression (GDS-s) and the State-Trait Personality Inventory Trait Anxiety (STPI-TA) scales. Results: On principal components analysis, the eight-item MCSDS was found to have a multidimensional structure. Of the initial three-component solution, only two subscales had acceptable internal consistency (Cronbach’s alpha > 0.6): “Acceptance of responsibility” and “Integrity”. The third subscale (“Kindness towards others”) appeared to gauge two distinct constructs of formal (i.e. politeness) versus substantive (i.e. forgiveness) compassion. On binary logistic regression, only higher income was a significant predictor of formal compassion. Test-retest reliability was substantial to excellent (Gwet’s AC2 ≥ 0.8). There were no meaningful differences in social desirability between the NC and MCI groups. Likewise, negative Spearman’s correlations between social desirability and cognitive Z-scores across the whole sample were weak (rs < |0.3|) and confined to one MCSDS item. Although social desirability was an independent predictor of the STPI-TA score in multiple linear regression, it explained only a marginal amount of incremental variance in anxiety symptoms (less than 2%). Conclusions: Our results suggest that social desirability need not be a major concern when using questionnaires to assess mental health in geriatric outpatients without dementia.

Original languageEnglish
Article number494
JournalBMC Geriatrics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • Anxiety symptoms
  • Depressive symptoms
  • Geriatric outpatients
  • Marlowe-Crowne social desirability scale
  • Mild cognitive impairment
  • Older adults
  • Self-reported mental health
  • Social desirability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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