Social desirability bias

Social desirability bias

Social desirability bias is a term used in scientific research to describe the tendency of respondents to reply in a manner that will be viewed favorably by others. This will generally take the form of overreporting "good" behavior or underreporting "bad" behavior.The effect is common within the fields of medicine, psychology and the social sciences.

A hypothetical example of social desirability bias would be a study of sexual behavior. When confronted with the question "Do you masturbate? If so, how often?", a respondent may be influenced by the societal taboo of masturbation, and either lie (falsely claiming not to masturbate) or downright refuse to answer the question.

Some areas that are sensitive to participants' interpretations of social desirability:

*Sexual behavior and fantasies
*Personal income and earnings
*Feelings of self-worth and/or powerlessness
*Excretory functions
*Compliance with medicinal dosing schedules
*Bigotry and intolerance
*Intellectual achievements
*Physical symptomatology
*Acts of real or imagined physical violence
*Indicators of "kindness" or "benevolence"
*Illegal acts

When social desirability cannot be guarded against in research, often the researcher will resort to a scale that measures socially desirable responding, with the assumption that if a participant answers in a socially desirable manner on that scale, they are in all likelihood answering similarly throughout the study. One example of a test that measures socially-desirable responding is the Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale (MCSDS) [Crowne, D. P., & Marlowe, D. (1960). A new scale of social desirability independent of psychopathology. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 24, 349-354] . Depending upon the goals of the research, respondents that engage in significant amounts of socially-desirable responding are discarded from statistical consideration; mid-range scorers on a scale of socially-desirable responding may or may not be included in statistical consideration at the researcher's discretion, or their answers may be recalibrated commensurate with their perceived degree of skew, depending upon the measures involved, the goals of the study, and the robustness of the measures used. However, a major problem with such scales is that individuals actually differ in the degree to which they are socially desirable (e.g., nuns versus criminals) and measures of social desirability confound true differences with social-desirability bias.


ee also

*Bradley effect
*Observer effect
*Social research

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