Social Desirability Bias: Definition, Examples & Implication

Research’s credibility, reliability, authenticity and social desirability bias are of utmost importance in commercial as well as academic researches. Honesty, reporting transparency and avoiding results’ fabrication along with biased data collection are vital aspects to ensuring reliability, authenticity and credibility of research. Bias is a significant factor that contributes to the overall quality of research and is therefore essential to make research trustworthy. By definition, bias occurs in research when someone introduces systematic errors into sampling/ selecting/ preferring one’s response/ reading/ answer over another based on personal preferences.

Bias is a common research problem affecting the quality of thousands of researches; however, it is almost impossible to eliminate bias from research completely. In research that involves data collection via surveys and questionnaires, the most important setback is a biasness that is also called social desirability bias. This article is all about exposing different characteristics of social desirability bias by stating definitions, examples and its implications in social research.

Social Desirability Bias: Definition Along With A Brief Description

Social desirability bias occurs when respondents give opinions and share experiences that are not based on reality; instead, such responses try to please interviewer or other respondents. This happens when respondents do not know about a fact that responses must aim to help researchers in making an informed decision rather than impressing interviewers. Such research trends affect almost all types of researches, but also affect research involving all sensitive as well as personal information. As a matter of course, social desirability bias is a type of bias response in which respondents showcase themselves in a more sophisticated and pleasant manner.

According to another definition, it is the tendency to over-report socially desirable characteristics or behaviours in oneself and under-report socially undesirable characteristics or behaviours. Sometimes, these responses best explain the hypothesised trends that have no connection with reality; thus, such studies are more prone to inauthenticity, falsification and inaccuracy-related problems. This type of bias is more common in qualitative research (especially those involving data collection through surveys and interviews) than in quantitative research. Therefore, most of people prefer to get PhD dissertation help.

Social Desirability Bias In Surveys:

This kind of bias occurs when a researcher allows respondents to answer questions by using self-reporting approaches. In self-reporting surveys, respondents are allowed to give answers according to their wishes without considering any interference. Mostly such questions ask for beliefs, attitudes, and experiences. The mental state of the respondent and lack of understanding of questions are factors affecting this type of bias in surveys. Additionally, some respondents often give exaggerated responses while others who are least exposed to any critical issues give neutral responses. Thus, the respondent’s mood, circumstances and nature in dealing with life events all deprive researchers form an good interpretation of the real trends.

Social Desirability Bias In Interviews:

The greatest chances of occurring bias in qualitative research are evident in the studies that collect data by arranging face-to-face interviews. In interviews, respondents often feel uncomfortable and hide their discomforts by telling a lie. This type of bias can be categorised under a broader term known as impressive management. Another fact behind introducing bias in interviews is a human nature to hide the dark side of their personality. Both of these factors compel respondents to either tell a lie or give unrealistic reviews- the factor known as the social desirability effect. All in all, to explore the fact that why participants of an interview commit social desirability bias include a feeling of discomfort, distress, embarrassment, and uneasiness.

Examples Of Social Desirability Bias:

There are many examples that can help even a novice researcher to understand the concept of social desirability bias in order to deliberately ignore it.

Example #1:

Starting from a simple example, suppose the topic of interest is to investigate the connection between live video streaming on YouTube and the number of students failing each year in primary and secondary school students through a qualitative method of data collection. Multiple factors from the recently discussed trends can introduce bias that can adversely affect the quality of research.

  • Students often feel ashamed to talk about their academic failure and can exaggerate other factors to prove them as a leading cause of their failure.
  • Some students may give biased responses by the fair for not being allowed to see the YouTube videos anymore.
  • The school students may face difficulties in getting the true sense of the questions mentioned in a survey or asked in interviews; thus, they may give biased answers.

Example # 2:

This example sketches an entirely different scenario for developing a better understanding of why respondents give a biased response in research. Again, in this example, subjects and respondents remain the same (students). For instance, the research aims to improve teaching standards within the premises of a school by taking students’ feedback about teaching methods, knowledge and attitude of teachers. In such a scenario, students often give biased responses based on their personal liking or disliking and academic benefits. We suppose such trends to introduce bias and raise a number of challenges for the school administration in truly improving their teaching standards.

In addition to this, searching on sensitive issues such as sexual behaviour, illegal activities, ethically questionable habits and involving information related to tragedies of life are also some of the most important examples of biasness related to social desirability.

The Implication Of Social Desirability Bias:

It affects the quality of research in many ways. Some of them are as follows:

  • It leads to the foundation of facts on personal preferences instead of logically proven ideas.
  • It drastically increases the number of studies on good behaviour and decreases the number of studies addressing bad behaviours.
  • It prevents the audience from knowing the true nature of reality.

Concluding Remarks:

In a nutshell, social desirability bias is the process of hiding the reality for the sake of preventing feelings of embarrassment, uneasiness and other discomforting factors. By definition, it is the type of bias in responses that respondents showcase to reflect the pleasant and well-mannered side of their personalities. Its examples include the biased responses regarding illegal activities, ethically questionable habits, sexual behaviour, and tragedies of life. It can result in biased reporting of only the positive aspects of a study, which can lead to unreliable conclusions. Therefore, to reduce the impact of social desirability bias, a researcher must promote anonymity and data confidentiality while conducting qualitative research.

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