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How to Prevent Response Acquiescence Bias in Surveys

Kate William

Last Updated:  

30 May 2024

8 min read

If you’re a business that relies on market research, you’ll probably run into a common problem every time you conduct a survey. It’s “response acquiescence bias” and it can really mess up your results.

Essentially, it means that people tend to agree with statements, regardless of whether they actually believe them, which can throw off your data.

But don’t worry, we’re here to help! In this article, we’ll:

What Is Response Acquiescence Bias?

Also known as agreement bias,  response acquiescence bias is a type of response bias that occurs in surveys where respondents have a tendency to agree with statements regardless of whether they actually believe them. As a result, respondents end up agreeing to the statements in the survey without giving their personal or unbiased views.

This can happen for a variety of reasons, such as the desire to please the researcher, a lack of interest in the survey topic, or simply a habit of agreeing with everything. The result is that the data may not accurately reflect the respondents’ true attitudes or opinions.

This phenomenon occurs when respondents are given a question in the form of yes/no, agree/disagree, and so on.

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How Does Response Acquiescence Bias Occur?

It can be difficult to eliminate response acquiescence bias in every questionnaire as the causes are usually subliminal. The good news is that there are ways to minimize this survey bias.

According to acquiescence psychology, here are eight reasons why acquiescence bias occurs.

Respondents feel fatigue:

When you’re taking a survey, it can be pretty easy to get tired if it goes on for too long – especially if you have other tasks to finish. And once you start losing interest, you might not feel like putting in any more effort.

That’s when you might resort to just giving positive responses so you can finish up as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, this can throw off the accuracy of the survey results.

Respondents struggle with agree/disagree questions:

“Agree or disagree” questions aren’t inherently biased. But when they’re combined with other questions that relate to a respondent’s personal beliefs or values, that’s when bias can start to creep in.

This is because people tend to answer questions in a way that’s consistent with their overall worldview – even if it means stretching the truth a bit.

Respondents are influenced by the researcher:

Research suggests that participants may show more response acquiescence bias when taking a survey in person with a researcher, compared to taking a survey via email or app. However, in reality, respondents might still be inclined to please the researcher, and give answers they think the researcher wants to hear, regardless of the survey format.

This is because people often want to be helpful and accommodating, and might not want to risk offending the researcher or jeopardizing the study.

Respondents want to be considered socially acceptable:

When people are asked a question that they think might make them look bad or go against social norms, they often feel pressure to give an answer that makes them look good. Even if it’s not truthful.

This is because they know that someone will be looking at their answers and they don’t want to be judged negatively. As a result, they may give socially desirable answers instead of being honest.

Respondents want to be agreeable:

Most of us are people pleasers. We want to avoid conflict or negative feelings if possible. This can translate to survey responses as well. If a respondent thinks that a negative answer might not be well-received by the researcher, they may be more likely to give a positive answer even if it’s not truthful.

Additionally, people tend to take the perspective of others into account when making decisions. This can lead them to characterize negative responses as undesirable or unfriendly, even if they’re honest.

Respondents are influenced by their social environment:

When a survey asks questions about a respondent’s behavior or their place in society, there’s a higher chance that they may be inclined to give a response that’s expected of them.

This is because people often weigh the pros and cons of being honest, and may decide that it’s better to give a response that makes them look like an honest and upstanding individual in society. As a result, the survey responses may not always accurately reflect the respondent’s true feelings or behavior.

Respondents want the ideal self-perception:

When respondents take a survey, they may be motivated to present a version of themselves that they aspire to be, rather than who they truly are. They want to portray themselves in a positive light.

In a sense, they may be creating a version of themselves that they want to believe is true, even if it’s not entirely accurate. The responses they give may reflect this idealized self-image, influenced by response acquiescence bias.

Respondent’s background affects their answers:

The upbringing and life experiences of a respondent can also contribute to response acquiescence bias in surveys. For example, a person who grew up in an unsafe environment may be more likely to give answers that are socially desirable. On the other hand, someone who has always lived in a safe environment may be more inclined to give truthful answers because they feel comfortable and secure.

In another example by author JWS Kappelhof, linguistic differences between ethnic minorities made it tough to get comparable survey data. Education was another factor; educated respondents tended to be overrepresented in the studies as more of them were willing to participate.

How To Prevent Response Acquiescence Bias In Surveys

If you’re creating surveys, it’s super important to prevent response acquiescence bias. This can make it hard to get accurate data, and that’s not good for anyone.

So, how can you prevent acquiescence bias? Here are a few tips:

#1. Make your surveys shorter:

Keep your surveys short and sweet. Nobody wants to spend all day filling out a survey – especially if they’re not getting paid for it! Shorter surveys are more likely to get truthful responses, since people are more likely to spend time on each question and really think about their answers.

It’s also a good idea to let your respondents know how long the survey will take, and give them a progress bar so they can see how far they’ve come. This helps keep them engaged, since they’ll know exactly how much time they need to invest. And for online surveys, where there usually isn’t much of an incentive, transparency is key. Don’t try to trick people into taking a long survey!

In fact, if you look at surveys that have high completion rates, like customer satisfaction (CSAT) or net promoter score (NPS) surveys, you’ll see that they’re usually pretty short. People are more likely to be honest when the survey is easy and quick. So, keep it simple and you’ll get better results!

#2. Choose the right demographic:

Another way to prevent response acquiescence bias is to make sure you’re choosing the right people to take your survey. If you’re trying to get data on a specific target market, then you need to make sure that your participants actually fit that demographic.

Otherwise, you’re going to end up with biased results that don’t accurately reflect the views of your target market.

Moreover, it’s crucial to keep your survey relevant to the interests of the people you’re trying to reach. Otherwise they’re not going to be engaged – and that’s when you start getting insincere responses.

#3. Review the questions in your survey:

The language you use in your survey can have a big impact on how people respond. If the question is too complicated or confusing, people might not know how to answer – and that can lead to inaccurate responses.

To make sure your questions are crystal clear, it’s a good idea to review them and simplify them if necessary. Moreover, if you offer a range of questions like multi-choice, images or ratings, people are more likely to find something they can respond to honestly.

And if you use more open-ended answer choices, you might get more detailed and explicit responses, which can be really helpful for understanding your target market.

#4. Phrase the questions with clear intent:

You want to let people know that you value their honest feedback. Make it clear that you’re not trying to shame or target anyone for their answers. The whole point of a survey is to get a better understanding of your target market, so it’s in your best interest to create questions that people feel comfortable answering truthfully.

And if you really want to make sure people feel secure, you can make your surveys anonymous. That way, they don’t have to worry about being judged or identified based on their answers. Anonymity is one of the easiest ways to get honest answers, and it can make a huge difference in the quality of data you get.

#5. Do not ask leading questions:

These are questions that are worded in a way that’s meant to influence the respondent’s answer. They can be really misleading, and they can make your survey results less credible.

For example: “How excellent is our product on a scale of 1-10?”

You’re assuming that the product is excellent – and that’s not necessarily true for everyone. Even if people didn’t enjoy using the product at all, they might feel pressured to give a high score because of the way the question is worded.

Another example of a leading question: “When did you realize you loved our flagship product?”

This question assumes that the respondent loved the product – even if that’s not the case. People who want to complete the survey might just click on any of the choices, even if they don’t really love the product. And even people who want to be honest might feel pressured to give an inaccurate response.

Learn more about leading questions and how to fix them.

#6. Use open-ended questions:

The beauty of open-ended questions is that they let people respond in a way that feels most truthful and accurate to them. They’re not constrained by pre-set answer choices, and they don’t have to worry about selecting the “wrong” answer.

This can lead to more genuine and honest responses, which can help reduce the impact of response acquiescence bias in your survey data.

In general, it’s a good idea to use a mix of open-ended and closed-ended questions in your survey. Closed-ended questions can be helpful for collecting data in a structured and organized way. And open-ended questions can help provide additional context and depth to the data you collect.

#7. Be transparent:

When it comes to conducting surveys, transparency is key. You want your participants to feel like they can trust you and that their responses are going to be used for a good purpose.

Let your respondents know exactly why you’re asking the questions you’re asking. Share your intentions for the survey data, and be clear about what you plan to do with it. This can encourage them to provide more accurate and honest responses.

It’s also important to give participants the option to opt out of the survey if they’re not comfortable. This helps ensure that you’re getting data from people who are truly invested in the survey process.

#8. Use neutral language:

Neutral language means phrasing questions in a way that doesn’t suggest a particular answer. This can help ensure that people’s responses are genuine, rather than being influenced by the way the question is worded.

When your survey questions are neutral, you’re more likely to get accurate and unbiased responses from your participants.

If you’re short on time, you can use online survey tools like SurveySparrow. It has hundreds of pre-built survey templates with well-researched survey questions.

#9. Help respondents focus:

The key is to create a survey that’s easy to understand and complete, without sacrificing important data.

You don’t want to overwhelm people with complicated questions or confusing design elements. To avoid this, use simple words and engaging visuals that convey your message clearly.

One strategy is to display only one question per page. This keeps the focus solely on that question. Also, you can also add subtitles to help them understand the underlying meaning of the question.

Wrapping Up

For your survey results to be high-value, you must make sure that the data is of high quality. However, response acquiescence bias is one of those things that stops you from getting the best out of your surveys.

We hope the strategies above will reduce instances of acquiescence bias in your surveys.

If you are looking to collect top notch data for your business needs, look no further than SurveySparrow. Get in touch to find out how we can help you succeed.

Response Acquiescence Bias: FAQs

What solutions can eliminate the acquiescence bias?

The researcher can make the following changes to reduce acquiescence bias: 1. Review questions, 2. Make your surveys short, 3. Offer anonymous surveys, 4. Be neutral and transparent, 5. Don’t ask any questions that can lead to bias.

What is acquiescence response bias?

It is the tendency of survey respondents to agree with survey statements without it being a true reflection of what they want to answer.

How do you identify acquiescence bias?

You can identify survey responses as biased when they don’t offer their personal or unbiased views.

What are the different types of response bias in surveys?

The various response biases are demand characteristics bias, neutral responding bias, acquiescence bias, dissent bias, extreme responding bias, etc.

Kate William

Content Marketer at SurveySparrow

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