Response Bias: Definition and Examples

Design of Experiments > Response Bias

What is Response Bias?

response bias
Response bias (also called survey bias) is the tendency of a person to answer questions on a survey untruthfully or misleadingly. For example, they may feel pressure to give answers that are socially acceptable. The respondent may not be aware that they aren’t answering the questions in the way the researcher intended: the format of the question or the nature of the previous questions may have an unwanted impact on how a person responds to a survey.

Self-Reporting Issues

People tend to want to portray themselves in the best light, and this can affect survey responses. According to psychology professor Delroy Paulhus, response bias is a common occurrence in the field of psychology, especially when it comes to self-reporting on:

  • Personal traits
  • Attitudes, like racism or sexism
  • Behavior, like alcohol use or unusual sexual behaviors.

Questionnaire Format Issues

Misleading questions can cause response bias; the wording of the question may influence the way a person responds. For example, a person may be asked about their satisfaction for a recent online purchase and may be presented with three options: very satisfied, satisfied, and dissatisfied. By being given only one option for dissatisfaction, the consumer may be less inclined to pick that option. In some cases, the entire questionnaire may result in response bias. For example, this study showed that patients who are more satisfied tend to respond to surveys in higher numbers than patients who were dissatisfied. This leads to the overestimation of satisfaction levels.

Other questionnaire format problems include:

  • Unfamiliar content: the person may not have the background knowledge to fully understand the question.
  • Fatigue: giving a survey when a person is tired or ill may affect their responses.
  • Faulty recall: asking a person about an event that happened in the distant past may result in erroneous responses.

Many of the above issues can be averted by providing an opt-out choice like “undecided” or “not sure.”

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