How To Identify & Avoid Bias in Research | Top 5 Types

by | Dec 11, 2020

Experts know that bias can occur in any research program, but the goal is to reduce bias to get better data. There are many different types of bias that commonly occur in the process of research and analysis. Below are some of the different types of bias and how you can limit their impact on your research. 

Types of Bias

Acquiescence Bias (Agreement Bias)

You may know it as “friendliness bias” or “yea-saying.” Acquiescence bias occurs when a respondent agrees with every aspect of a survey or interview regardless if it matches their personal opinion. 

There are a variety of different factors that can cause this behavior in research participants. Some individuals have acquiescent personalities, and various factors like education can impact a respondent’s tendency toward acquiescence bias. 

Aquiescening can also seem like an easy way out when respondents get survey fatigue. To reduce survey fatigue, it is key that questions are concise and to the point. Moreover, it’s important to exclude any survey questions that are not directly linked to the research question to make it as short as possible for the respondent. Another way to limit this scenario is reducing yes/no style questions and instead substituting them for options that allow the respondent to express their genuine opinion.

Social Desirability Bias

This bias happens when the respondent answers questions not based on their true opinions but on how they believe others will view their responses to be accepted and liked. People are more likely to respond inaccurately on personal or sensitive topics, which is where ensuring a respondent that providing socially undesirable answers is acceptable. Additionally, ensuring respondents know that their information will remain confidential may help to get respondents to answer honestly. 

Another way to avoid social desirability bias is through indirect questioning, which you can do by asking what the third-party may think and how they will behave. It allows an individual to project their thinking onto others while giving honest answers. Additionally, validating responses with other datasets can help provide confidence in the information you gather. 

Being transparent about the usage of the data and allowing respondents to be anonymous can also increase a respondent’s likelihood of providing their true opinion. 

Confirmation Bias

One of the common and pervasive types of bias in research is confirmation bias, which is the tendency of people to believe or favor information that supports their beliefs or hypothesis. This can happen when people weigh the evidence that confirms their opinions more than disproves them and also when selectively recalling information.  

Most individuals exhibit some tendency toward confirmation bias as it is how we often filter and sort information. Due to this bias, it can often lead to focusing only on one hypothesis at a time. Researchers need to reevaluate respondents’ information and challenge preexisting hypotheses and assumptions constantly to solve this problem.

Sampling Bias

For most research, the goal is to collect data from the audience members you are attempting to learn about. Sampling bias occurs when you only collect information for a specific group (though sometimes researchers require collecting data from a subset of the population) while leaving out the data from individuals that are important for the sample. 

Examining your research design and data collection methods can help you ensure that you collect data from your target population. 

Question Order Bias 

The order in which respondents answer questions can cause bias in their responses. Different words or questions can prime respondents’ thoughts and feelings and impact how they react to subsequent questions. Though it can be difficult to avoid all instances of order bias, asking general questions before specific questions and reviewing the order of questions can help limit the impact of this bias. 

You should start a questionnaire with easy questions that are not threatening. Then, toward the end of the survey, add more threatening or sensitive issues. 

Bottom Line

It’s near impossible to eliminate all bias from research, but concentrating on designing high-quality research studies is one way to limit bias in the research process. 

Check out our blog post, 7 Tips for Designing A Great Survey, to get more actionable tips to help you design an effective survey. 

Interested in learning more about how Premise can help you collect data from around the globe? Email us at [email protected] and we can help you get started.