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5 Types of Biases in Market Research and How to Avoid Them

Sophia Madhavan

3 July 2019

4 min read

No research can escape bias. Never has, never will.  Assuming that everyone else sees the world the same as we do is only human. That is what leads to market research bias.

However, don’t start second-guessing every study and survey you did right away! We also have ways to avoid market research bias almost completely.

Types of market research bias (and how to avoid them)

Let’s explore the types of research biases that are most common while conducting market research so that you will know how to combat them.

These biases can be grouped into two categories: respondent bias and researcher bias.

To elaborate – when it comes to market research, there are two human elements participating in it: the researcher and the respondent. Both come with individual packages of biases and presumptions which will reflect in what they do.

A. Respondent Bias

1. Social Desirability Bias

In this bias, the respondents give incorrect information in order to be accepted or liked. So, they answer the questions to please and show themselves in the best possible light. Thus, skewing your market research conclusions.

For example, if there are questions about drinking and driving, few would admit to doing it. Since it’s a condemned activity the respondent might lie to avoid criticism or judgment.

How to avoid it

  • Frame your questions to allow answers that may not be socially desirable.
  • You can also ask indirect questions. For example, asking about how a third person (or imaginary person) would think, feel or act in a socially sensitive situation.
  • Lastly, you can switch your survey setting to ‘Anonymous’, and provide a disclaimer at the start of the survey that all responses are confidential. This allows the respondents to portray their own feelings and provide honest answers.

2. Habituation Bias

Questions that are worded in a similar fashion may get the same answers. When respondents see repetitive questions, they go on auto-pilot mode and stop being responsive. Then, they start giving similar responses to different questions asked in a similar way.

For example, if you are having multiple questions that require the respondents to rate the quality of the service or products, the respondents might automatically mark ‘slightly agree’ or ‘slightly disagree’ without properly reading the questions.

How to avoid it

  • Keep your questions conversational to engage your respondents.
  • Frame each question differently to minimize habituation.
  • Use a mix of question types to avoid repetition.

Survey tools like SurveySparrow have lots of interesting question types like multiple choice, image choice, open-ended, ratings, slider, etc.

SurveySparrow - Image Choice question
SurveySparrow – Image Choice question

This Product Market Research Survey template is a good example for how to arrange different question types to make the survey feel like a conversation.

Know what is the great thing about templates? They are free of the usual biases. To get access to more survey templates like this, claim your FREE trial below.

3. Sponsor Bias

When respondents suspect or know the sponsor of the research, their opinions, experiences and feelings about the sponsor may influence how they answer the questions concerning that particular brand.

Let’s take an example of a personal care survey where a shampoo brand is one of the sponsors. When asked about their favorite shampoo, the respondent might choose the survey sponsor out of obligation – especially if rewards are involved.

Health studies are another examples. Many health studies are condemned to be skewed because they have been funded by pharmaceutical companies.

How to avoid it

  • Maintain a neutral stance. Limit the urge to reinforce positive respondent feedback.
  • Avoid disclosing the name of the survey sponsors. You can remove any sign of the logos.
  • If you must mention the sponsors, mention them as part of a ‘thank you’ message after the respondent has submitted the survey.

Related: How to set up personalized Thank You pages 

B. Researcher Bias

1. Confirmation Bias

One of the most recognized and pervasive forms of bias in market research is confirmation bias.

In this type of bias, the researcher is convinced of a belief or hypothesis and uses respondents’ responses as evidence to confirm that belief.

Simply put, confirmation bias is seeing what you want to see and focusing on evidence that supports what you already believe.

For example, imagine that the election season is here. The articles and opinion columns you tend to seek would most probably have the candidate you support portrayed in a good light, while the opposition candidate is in a negative shade.

How to avoid it

  • Re-evaluate respondents’ impressions.
  • Check for unsupported or unsubstantiated claims.
  • Try to challenge and overcome your assumptions and hypotheses.

2. Culture Bias

Culture bias is an extension of confirmation bias. It stems from assumptions we have about other cultures based on the values and standards we have for our own culture.

Collected responses or generated reports are undermined or over-sensationalized because of the researcher’s culture bias.

For example, a ‘proud’ American could very well be biased when asked about issues that affect the Latino community in the US. Stereotyping undermines facts.

How to avoid it

  • Move towards cultural relativism.
  • Show unconditional positive regard for all cultures.
  • Be aware of your own cultural assumptions.

How can bias impact market research?

Bias is a pure product of human nature. It seeps into the thinking and reasoning of a human mind to reflect research that is biased too.

Nevertheless, we cannot just accept that when it comes to research. There is nothing more damaging than a skewed or biased study. Hidden research bias can change the way a researcher words questions and answer options. This could lead to data that is misleading or outright false.

No market research is 100% free from survey biases. But you can definitely reduce or avoid them with the proper tools.

Wrapping up

You can only see the world through your own experiences and opinions. That makes it difficult to not be biased, in one way or another.

Learning more about the kind of survey biases that can creep into your market research can help you successfully counter them. The different types of market research bias above can be minimized if you ask the right market research questions at the right time while being aware of the various sources of bias.

If you’re setting up a new market research project, it’s up to you to report accurate results that have not been skewed by biased data. Want to learn how? Talk to us – we’re a chat away.

Sophia Madhavan

Senior Director at SurveySparrow

Mommy during the day and Marketer by the night!

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