Are you sure you are not being lied to?

We’ve been working very hard recently: writing the study’s introduction, reviewing the literature, drafting the methods section of our thesis, and collecting the data in the field. Now I believe we’ve all come to a point where we are trying to figure out how to turn the voluminous, messy data to research texts. But before you go through the process of data analysis and delve into data, I would like to introduce you to a fancy term called Social Desirability Bias that poses a serious challenge to researchers in the field of social sciences. It is the tendency of people to lie to researchers to present themselves favorably to others which may consequently invalidate the results of the study.


(Source: PromoKitchen)

The motivational forces behind this misrepresentation of self might involve one’s pursuit to be liked and respected by society. That is why when we ask our participants to report their attitudes, beliefs or behaviors about an object, there is a risk that they may inaccurately describe themselves and their experiences by distorting their answers. For instance, in my study, I was afraid that my participants would be hesitant to share their concerns about native and non-native English speaking teachers, for the fear of retribution (it didn’t happen, though). Indeed, the fear of being socially unaccepted or, even worse, judged may motivate people to give “right” answers that do not reflect the reality.

I hope you are on the same page with me on the assumption that the highest level of pressure to give socially desirable responses occurs in face-to-face interviews as talking to a stranger per se might make the potential participant feel uncomfortable (there is also an evidence that focus group participants also engage in deception). And as many of my peers have chosen an interview as their research instrument, I thought it might be a particularly exciting time for us to consider the issues pertinent to Social Desirability Bias.

According to several blogs (links are provided below), using indirect questions and ensuring participants’ anonymity and confidentiality can be effective techniques to reduce social pressure. However, it does not guarantee that your participants will not try to portray the favorable images of themselves. At the same time, you as a researcher cannot always identify whether the participant is telling you the truth or misrepresenting himself/herself to meet societal expectations.

So, what do you think of Social Desirability Bias? Have you heard of this term before? If so, did you think of ways to mitigate its effects? How can you design your questions to elicit the most truthful responses? Should we be worried or are there minimal chances of its presence in educational research?

P.S. I may be a little late in posting this blog, but everyone is quite used to me being late.

1 thought on “Are you sure you are not being lied to?

  1. Captivating first sentence: “We’ve been working very hard recently: writing the study’s introduction, reviewing the literature, drafting the methods section of our thesis, and collecting the data in the field.” I like how it jumps right into the topic at hand, paints a picture, and correctly uses a colon and a parallel list.

    I really hope your peers chime in on the questions you raise. My advice would be to include this question (and a source or two about it) in your discussion of the study’s limitations. It is a meaningful one, and clearly demonstrates your ability to evaluate the credibility of your findings.



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