Social Desirability Bias

Social Desirability Bias is a type of response bias that occurs when respondents feel pressured, either internally or externally, to provide a socially desired response. Thus, the data from these respondents is biased and does not accurately reflect the target population.

Examples:

There are many different ways in which respondents can feel pressured to provide socially desirable answers.

  • A survey targeting Social Media Marketers could include questions asking for detailed ways in which respondents have performed poorly at their jobs, or ways in which their organization could improve. A Social Media Marketer might be concerned about the confidentiality of the survey data, or protective of their reputation, and may thus give inaccurate answers in order to protect their own reputation, as well as the reputation of their business.
  • This kind of bias is also prevalent in surveys concerning politics, current events, and social issues. A polling company could run a survey asking registered voters for their opinions on who they’ll vote for, where they stand on hot topic social issues, and what their opinions are regarding current events. If they used various methodologies, including phone, in-person, and online surveys, they might find that responses change based on how close respondents were to an interviewer. Respondents might be more reluctant to provide an unpopular opinion if they’re concerned about being judged by or offending the interviewer.

In order to control for social desirability bias, it is imperative that interviewers and survey instruments work to be neutral and do not attempt to influence respondents’ answers. If social desirability bias is a great concern for a project, online methodologies are more likely to minimize the effect of this bias, as respondents are removed from the interviewer. This allows respondents to be more able to perceive their responses as anonymous than they otherwise would with phone or in-person methodologies.