Market research is one of the most important aspects of any brand’s marketing strategy. However, the results are not always perfect, and can sometimes be skewed based on several aspects, including question and respondent biases. While it would be ideal to only produce unbiased questionnaires and expect unbiased answers, the truth is that people are psychologically inclined to biases of many kinds. To better understand bias and how it can be reduced, we’ve broken down some of the most common types of bias in market research.
Types of Biases
One of the most common problems that occur during market research is that bias can make the results less reliable. Bias, defined by Dictionary.com as “a particular tendency, trend, inclination, feeling, or opinion, especially one that is preconceived or unreasoned”, can leech into survey questions, focus group answers, and more. Here are some of the most common types of bias found in research:
- Acquiescence Bias: Also known as agreement bias, occurs when answerers agree with survey questions, without necessarily being a true answer.
- Observation Bias: Observation bias, also known as the Hawthorne Effect, happens when study participants act or answer questions differently when they are aware that they are being observed.
- Confirmation Bias: Confirmation bias occurs when someone studying data looks for patterns that may or may not be present to prove opinions they already held.
- Recall Bias: Recall bias happens when researchers must rely on respondents’ memory or ability to recall events.
According to QualtricsXM, “acquiescence bias, also known as the agreement bias, is the tendency for survey respondents to agree with research statements, without the action being a true reflection of their own position or the question itself.” This type of bias happens when a participant is asked to confirm something. Acquiescence bias can be avoided, however, by asking more open-ended questions, giving respondents a chance to explain themselves and explore their own answers more deeply. Here are some examples of the ‘yes bias’ in action:
- A survey respondent is asked if they would ever consider making a purchase from a competitor. This type of question leads them to agree, even if they are not sure.
- A lawyer asks a witness if a person they say was wearing a yellow scarf. Even if the person is not sure, they are more likely to reply with ‘yes’.
- A teacher is handing out evaluations at the end of the year, and one of the questions asks if she did a good job at teaching. The students are more likely to answer yes than no.
Observation bias is one of the hardest to overcome. It happens when participants know that they are being observed, and act differently, either subconsciously or overtly. This can be an issue because people may not give the most honest answers if they know they are being put on the spot or someone is evaluating their performance. Observation bias can be avoided by hiding research methods, like using hidden mics, two-way mirrors, and other means. In a focus group, for example, a researcher could be hidden within the participants. Here are some examples of observation bias:
- An employee is working and their boss enters the room; they are still working, but now they are subconsciously sitting up straight, pretending to focus more closely than they were before.
- A group of focus group participants is having a hard time answering questions because there is a microphone on the table, and they feel that their answers may not be good enough.
Confirmation bias can be hard to catch when you are the one doing it. This type of bias happens when an individual such as a researcher looks for patterns or facts to support their own beliefs, values, or ideals. This can be difficult to avoid, as there are many times when we want to believe that certain things are true. However, by thinking critically about research, confirmation bias can be minimized. Here are some examples of confirmation bias:
- A researcher claims that a brand should target a specific demographic when in reality, the demographic is not more significant than the others in the study. This is because the researcher identifies with the demographic and wants to support it subconsciously.
- A witness cannot recall details correctly about a suspect’s actions because they believe that he committed the crime due to his skin color.
- A doctor misdiagnoses a patient because she was certain the patient was exhibiting signs of a common illness, and not something more specific.
Another prominent issue is recall bias, which occurs when study participants or survey respondents answer questions about memories or other things that happened in the past. When delivering answers, researchers are only able to rely on the respondents’ ability to recall memories. According to Understanding Health Research, “sometimes different types of events are more likely to be remembered than others, causing respondents to report those types of experiences more readily. This creates a form of bias called recall bias.” Here are some samples of recall bias:
- Parents of a child with cancer are able to recall infections and other health issues more easily than parents with healthy children.
- A man is unable to recall the exact details of an incident, so he fills the missing information in his memory with assumptions.
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