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Creative use of biobank data enables exploration of longstanding questions about bias

Responses to survey questionnaires are a vital component of nearly all social and behavioural research. This study examined item nonresponse behaviour across 109 questionnaire items from 360,628 individuals in the UK Biobank using phenotypic and genetic data. These results were used to build an improved understanding of how item nonresponse might lead to bias in genetic studies in general.

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Fig. 1: Miami plot of GWAS findings for PNA and IDK survey nonresponses.


  1. Edwards, P. et al. Increasing response rates to postal questionnaires: systematic review. BMJ 324, 1183 (2002). A paper that demonstrates the persistence of nonresponse in survey research.

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  2. De Leeuw, E., Hox, J. & Huisman, M. Prevention and treatment of item nonresponse. J. Off. Stat. 19, 153–176 (2003). This paper defines item nonresponse.

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  3. McCabe, S. E. & West, B. T. Selective nonresponse bias in population-based survey estimates of drug use behaviors in the United States. Soc. Psychiatry Psychiatr. Epidemiol. 51, 141–153 (2016). A paper that highlights the biases that can be introduced via nonresponse bias.

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  4. Benonisdottir, S. & Kong, A. The genetics of participation: method and analysis. Preprint at (2022). A preprint paper on the genetics of nonresponse behaviour in the UK Biobank.

  5. Pirastu, N. et al. Genetic analyses identify widespread sex-differential participation bias. Nat. Genet. 53, 663–671 (2021). A paper that showcases sex-differential participation bias, another type of bias found in biobanks.

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This is a summary of: Mignogna, G. et al. Patterns of item nonresponse behaviour to survey questionnaires are systematic and associated with genetic loci. Nat. Hum. Behav., (2023)

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Creative use of biobank data enables exploration of longstanding questions about bias. Nat Hum Behav 7, 1251–1252 (2023).

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