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Non Response Bias vs Response Bias – How to Avoid, Definition & Examples

The complete Non-Response Bias and Response Bias Definition, statistics Guide.

A survey is a powerful tool to use when gathering data. We can use it in various fields such as for in academic research, understanding people’s opinions on a marketing campaign, or for collecting information needed for business analysis. It is also important in the world of Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace, as a diversity and inclusion survey is an important and common tool to understand the current states of diversity in your company.

Surveys can be efficient in documenting the data you need because they can explore the opinions, characteristics, and behaviors of people. This data is crucial in any decision-making process because it extrapolates the general idea of how people react to or feel towards a situation.

It’s important to derive accurate results when conducting a survey. The results of a survey can make or break your research, campaign, or business so, you need to get an accurate result. Bias occurs when the results of the survey are one-sided for several reasons.

What is a response bias in survey?

Response bias is the common term used to describe a range of tendencies for survey participants to provide inaccurate answers. Response bias occurs more commonly in research that requires the participants to answer questions in self-report surveys.

Response bias can be accidental or intentional. It can occur because of the participant’s mistake or choice, but it can also be the researcher’s mistake. Either way, survey data will become less significant and less useful when there are bias responses.

Types of Response Bias

It’s crucial to understand the usability and validity of a survey before releasing it to the intended respondents. Having several people go through your survey is a good move in finding out if your survey is clear and has no potential causes for response bias.

It’s good to understand how response bias happens so you can avoid it in your survey instrument. There are several main types of response bias and types of nonresponse bias that commonly occur in a survey.

Acquiescence bias

Participants provide positive answers to all the questions in the survey. This response bias is mostly intentional and usually the respondent’s fault.

Demand characteristics Bias

Participants can provide a bias response simply because they’re influenced by their role in the research. Respondents will alter their opinion or behavior based on what they believe the objective of the survey is, not based on what they think or feel.

Extreme Responding Bias

Participants provide extreme responses to all questions. This bias will occur more commonly in surveys that use rating scales such as the Likert scale. The data can show either extreme in positive or negative responses.

Neutral responding Bias

The opposite of extreme responding. Participants will choose neutral answers to all questions. This bias occurs when the participants aren’t interested in the research at all.

Social desirability Bias

Respondents provide socially desirable answers to sensitive questions. Sensitive questions can cause the participants to give socially acceptable answers. Our Comprehensive Social Desirabilit Bias Guide has more information about Social Desirability Bias.

Response Bias examples

Now that we know the main types of response bias, let’s take a look at some situations where these biases can happen.

Acquiescence Bias example

Participants who provide all positive answers can lead to contradictory data responses.

Example:

Do you believe in god?YES ✓NO  
Are you an atheist?YES ✓NO  

Demand characteristics Example

The respondents provide answers based on what they believe the researcher wants to hear.

Example:

We are rebranding. Do you think we should change our logo?YES ✓NO  

Extreme responding Example

Participants give extreme responses on all scale-rated questions.

Example:

 Very badBadOkayGoodVery good
What do you think of our food?    
What do you think of our ambiance?    
How would you rate our cleanliness?    

Neutral responding Example

Participants provide neutral answers to all questions.

Example:

 Very rarelyRarelyNeutralOftenVery often
How often do you shop online?    
How often do you use social media?    
How often do you share content?    

Social desirability Bias Example

Participants provide answers that are socially acceptable to generally sensitive questions.

Example:

Have you ever watched inappropriate movies before?YES  NO ✓

What is non-response bias?

A non-response bias, sometimes spelled as nonresponse bias, happens when there is a meaningful distinction between groups of people who responded to the survey and those who didn’t. This bias can happen for several reasons. For example, the survey is not relevant to them or participants are unwilling to take part.

The result obtained for a survey with this type of bias shows a meaningful way in which the sample differs. For instance, an organization conducts a survey to determine if a particular political party is doing a good job. A result with a high non-response bias could indicate a large number of the sample for the survey doesn’t support that particular political party.

What is Social Response Bias?

Social response bias is also known as social desirability bias. A Social Response bias can occur when the respondents wish to conform to what is socially acceptable answers. It’s a tendency to answer questions in ways that would be viewed positively by others e.g. the researcher.

This form of bias is more common in a survey with controversial or sensitive topics. Participants may want to follow the herd instead of stating what they feel about the matter. They may also cause social response bias because the questions seem to dictate a socially acceptable answer.

What is Voluntary Response Bias?

A Voluntary response bias happens when participants voluntarily take part in the research. They’re known as self-select volunteers. They have a strong interest in or identify with the subject matter. This type of participant is usually opinionated and they want to make their opinions count.

A good example of voluntary response bias is when the respondents are asked o vote in a poll. This type of participants usually responds to social issues-related polls such as gun control or racial discrimination. Participants willingly take part instead of being chosen by the researcher.

Conclusion

A bias can still happen in any survey even though the researcher has carefully designed it. As a researcher, you need to word the questions as accurately as possible to avoid any response bias. Furthermore, having the right target audience for the survey is also crucial so that you’re able to obtain meaningful data.          

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About the author

Susanne Ricee

Susanne Ricee is the Diversity and Inclusion Specialist and Researcher at Diversity for Social Impact. Sue brings over 15 years of HR and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion consultation experience.
Sue's previous experience includes Microsoft, Target, and Kraft. Sue is also the manager of Diversity Leadership Directory