Social Desirability Response

Social desirability response (SDR) is the propensity of some respondents to report a response in a way they believe to be more socially acceptable than would be their “actual” answer. They act in this way to present a positive self image and prevent receiving unfavourable assessments.

What is Social Desirability Response (SDR)

Researchers can answer particular questions using survey research methodologies that cannot be addressed with secondary data sources. Surveys can produce much data and be affordable compared to other research techniques. They can access feelings, ideas, and actions that are difficult to notice. While surveys offer many methodological advantages, one major potential disadvantage is that participants might need to be more honest when answering questions about themselves.

People tend to act in ways they believe are desirable or socially acceptable, which is known as social desirability bias. That indicates in a study that some behaviours are prone to under-reporting and others to over-reporting.

For instance, we are frequently interested in product consumption across different consumer segments in marketing research. When we inquire about habits like eating fast food, gambling, drinking, smoking, or impulse buying, we must be aware that certain people might be prone to under-reporting these habits.
We must be mindful of the possibility of over-reporting when we question people about exercising, eating healthfully, voting, or making charitable contributions.

Why does social desirability bias occur?

Most people aren’t even conscious of their biased responses. Because some people have this prejudice as a personality attribute, especially regarding delicate subjects, social desirability bias can happen to some level.

However, everyone is subject to general social and psychological factors. It is common for study participants to desire to “appear good” in front of the researcher or interviewer because gaining social approval is a core social psychological drive.

Additionally, the desire to preserve mental energy significantly impacts how participants answer questions, given the constant barrage of information and demands placed on their thoughts. For example, survey participants occasionally select “yes” for each question in the survey. Giving a “public” reaction, even if it strays somewhat from their inner reality, is all it is for some people.

There are ways for researchers to either lessen or tease out those little effects on the data, even though social desirability bias can cause research results to be somewhat skewed.

How to reduce the effects of social desirability bias in marketing research

Method of Surveys

Focusing on anonymity and eliminating the researcher’s presence can lessen bias if the questions are delicate. Self-administered surveys (available online or on paper) may be preferable to telephone or in-person interviews when requesting information on subjects subject to social judgement.

Usage of words in questionnaire

It is crucial to frame questions in a way that prevents influences on responses, yet amateur researchers sometimes need to remember to do so.

So when we ask, “To what extent do you make purchases on impulse?” the results you might get are unexpected than the actual behavior. A low score may equally well represent the respondent’s wish to appear as rational as it may do their actual behaviour. In light of this, interpreting the answers to this question is more challenging than it would be to ask, “How often do you make purchases that are only on your shopping list?”

Indirect questions (Structured and Projective techniques)

Researchers frequently pose structured questions that call for responses from another person’s perspective or a group of individuals to avoid the bias that results from exposing information about oneself.

For instance, questionnaire like “what kind of person shops at store X” or “under what conditions do you think people buy on impulse” may be posed. The goal of indirect questioning is to eliminate the distortion resulting from self-revelation. One is supposed to be left with the “real” feelings of the research participant.

Social Desirability Scale & Measures

Social science academics have been aware of the social desirability bias and the need to understand how it affects findings for many years.

There are several reliable questionnaires to gauge how much people might embellish their answers to make themselves look better. The Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale, the Balanced Inventory of Desirable Responding, and the Paulhus Deception Scales are a few of these assessments.

In a nutshell,

In conclusion, for various reasons, some people are predisposed to react in a way that makes them seem more socially acceptable. This happens due to people’s propensity for this prejudice, their need for social acceptance, or their desire to ease easy encounters with the general public so they can move on swiftly and mentally without exerting too much.

The conduct or attitude is always one step removed when using survey research methodologies. In other words, survey research encourages respondents to describe their actions, thoughts, and feelings regarding a range of subjects. According to a marketing study, consumers aren’t always aware of the services or products they use or consume.

This ignorance, combined with the need to feel good about oneself in a social setting, can produce responses to research questions that are biased.
Even though social desirability bias can affect survey research, experts and academics have a variety of strategies at their disposal to minimise or isolate the effects of biased responses.

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