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Response Bias in Psychology: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Did you know that there are four major types of response bias? Learn more about the different types of response bias from examples. Then, test your knowledge with a quiz.

What Is Response Bias?

Bill has just developed a 10-item questionnaire that is used to measure dating violence. Before he can officially publish his questionnaire, Bill needs to test it for response bias. First, Bill needs to learn all about response bias, including the different types.

Response bias refers to people's tendency to respond to tests or assessment items based on some factor other than the content (i.e. what questions are being asked). In other words, response bias occurs when people answer test items in ways that do not align with their true attitudes, beliefs, thoughts, or behaviors. Response bias can reduce the reliability and validity of a measurement, since questions are not being answered truthfully. This can also make psychological tests and assessments virtually useless, since any conclusions drawn from test responses would be inaccurate. There are four main types of response bias. Let's look at each of them more closely.

Types and Examples

The most common type of response bias is social desirability. Social desirability bias refers to people's tendency to respond in ways that are more acceptable to others, regardless of the truth. For example, one of the items on Bill's questionnaire is 'How often have you yelled at your partner?' Most people in our society would consider yelling at the person you are dating a bad thing. People may respond to this question by under-reporting how often they actually yell in order to make themselves appear more favorable. Another item asks, 'How often do you hug your partner?' People may respond to this question by over-reporting how often they hug, in an attempt to make themselves look good.

Acquiescence bias, also known as yea-saying, refers to people's tendency to agree with statements regardless of what they mean. Acquiescence bias can occur in any item in which the respondents are asked to confirm a statement, and most often occurs when respondents are uncertain how they feel about the statement. Acquiescence bias is especially a problem when respondents are presented with items that require them to either agree or disagree with a statement. For example, one of the items on Bill's questionnaire asks participants if they agree or disagree with the following statement, You should never go to bed angry at your partner.' People may answer this question by stating that they agree, but not because they truly agree with the statement; they are merely being agreeable.

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