Dealing with Social Desirability Bias Essay

Understanding Social Desirability:
Social desirability bias is a form of respondent bias where the participant responds in a desirable manner to avoid negative judgments from the researcher. There are two components to social desirability bias. It can be either intentional or unintentional; research has shown that most of the times it is done intentionally. The participant may sometimes have inaccurate thoughts and perceptions about themselves, making their self-concept to look more desirable unconsciously. Another way of social desirability bias displayed is when the participants intentionally provide answers that can make them appear more desirable. For instance, in job interviews, people provide favorable answers to impress than providing honest answers.

Although the need to portray as socially acceptable is a natural human tendency, it impacts the whole study.

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Effects of Social Desirability Bias:
Social desirability bias mainly affects the authenticity of responses in survey questions, leading to skewed results. It can stop a researcher from meeting the core purpose of using self-report surveys where the goal is to collect data based on respondents view. Personality traits, socioeconomic status, religion, specific behaviors, and personal habits such as smoking, drinking, substance use, and any controversial subject matters are highly sensitive to social desirability bias. For example, a question ‘How many cigarettes do you smoke in a day?’ can make a participant feel vulnerable and respond as 1 or 2 rather than 4 or 5, which they truly consume. The presence of such bias questions if the study is reliable and valid. Reliability is the measure of the ability of the study to produce the same results on repeated trials. The subjectivity in giving biased responses can affect the results if the test is repeated again sometime later, where the respondents may give a completely different answer. Validity measures if the results of the study correspond to the actual aim of the experiment. Social desirability bias has an effect mainly on external validity, which checks if the outcome can be generalized to or applied to a larger group from which the participants were chosen for the study.

Dealing with Social Desirability Bias:
Social desirability bias can be minimized by taking the following measures:

Keeping the names of the participants anonymous and emphasizing on instructions and confidentiality are crucial in avoiding the social desirability bias. When people know that their information will not be shared and no one will know that they provided certain answers, it is more likely that they provide truthful answers.

In some studies, giving only a brief overview without leaving any clues about the objective of the study reduces priming. Priming is a phenomenon where the behavior, thoughts, and attitude are already estimated by participants before giving responses, which in turn affects the accuracy of their answers. For example, providing an organization’s name can allow them to act favorable or unfavorable. Avoiding words such as attitudes, objective, and opinions on a self-reporting questionnaire has proven to be effective reducing the bias. However, in some studies, priming can be advantageous in some studies. For instance, priming helps in influencing whom they are thinking about while answering when the researcher is trying to explore specific patterns like relationship schemas with close people.

Employing a committee of experts to provide guidelines on wording and sensitivity of the interview questions can ensure that participants are not influenced by how the experimenter negotiates and questions them.

Using an experienced interviewer or guiding and monitoring the quality of those interviewing is essential.

A social desirability scale can be used to identify if the participants have given answers that are true. Crowne and Marlowe developed a scale to check if the answers provided by people are socially desirable responses. Based on the participant’s score, the experimenter can decide if the responses are accurate.

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