User feedback is essential for product improvement, but only if it is genuine. If you receive insincere feedback, you may end up developing products and making improvements that your customers dislike.

The acquiescence bias, also known as the “yes bias,” is a response bias in which people agree to statements or questions when they disagree. They skew survey results, causing brands to draw inaccurate conclusions and apply them to their products and services.

Here’s a guide to what acquiescence bias is, its implications, and how to prevent it.

What Is Acquiescence Bias?

Acquiescence bias occurs when respondents agree with sentiments or research statements even when they disagree. People claim to agree with things they don’t necessarily believe or aren’t their opinion for a variety of reasons, including politeness, social acceptance, sympathy, and others.

Acquiescence bias is common when answering yes or no questions. For example, in a product packaging interview, participants may say they like a particular package when, in fact, they don’t, but they are trying to be courteous or for some other reason.

When researchers use survey results tainted with acquiescence bias, they are making decisions based on incorrect feedback, which can lead to business failure.

What Causes Acquiescence Bias?

  • Participants from Different Backgrounds

People perceive questions differently due to cultural differences, so while a question or reference may be very clear to one respondent, it may not be to another.

Education also has an impact on how people interpret questions. When a person has a low educational level, they are more likely to struggle with complex questions. 

As a result, they may agree to statements because they do not fully comprehend the question enough to disagree.

  • Ideal Self Perception

Respondents may act unnaturally in surveys by selecting answers based on the version of themselves they believe is ideal rather than submitting their actual opinion.

Survey participants tend to present themselves as they want to be perceived rather than as they are. Even if they have the best intentions, their response is unreliable for product decisions.

  • Researcher’s Influence

Even in online surveys, respondents may want to answer questions based on what they believe the research wants to prove. As a result, participants base their responses on what they want the researcher to see not how they feel.

A preventive measure is to ensure that the survey’s design team doesn’t participate in the study. They are aware of the survey’s objectives; their goal is to meet the survey’s objectives rather than to provide their opinion.

  • Unengaged Respondents

Acquiescence bias also happens when respondents do not actively read and analyze questions to provide insightful responses. They could be stressed from answering too many questions, or they could be uninterested in the survey.

So they are taking the survey to complete it, not to provide honest feedback on the research topic. A good way to avoid this is to include quality control questions to ensure that respondents are paying attention to the survey; if they aren’t, they are likely to notice the quality control questions and be screened out of the survey.

  • Agreeability

Most of us want to act a certain way because we live in a society with behavioral standards and expectations. Respondents are also people that live with the same thought.

For example, respondents may dislike a product design but claim to like it because they believe it would be unkind to the designer. So, rather than providing honest feedback, they provide feedback based on what they believe is acceptable behavior.

  • Social Influences

When a questionnaire focuses on the respondent’s social interactions, participants are likely to exhibit unrealistic behaviors. They are likely to want to respond in a way that portrays them favorably in their community.

Also, some respondents may choose answers that separate them from society not because they believe it, but because they want to stand out positively. 

For example, consider a survey on bicycle rentals as a means of combating global warming. Respondents may select responses that make it appear as if they would use bicycles instead of public or private transportation when, in fact, they would not.

Effects & Implications of Acquiescence Bias

Market research’s goal is to collect responses from a target audience that will be used to make product and service decisions. The survey data influences major product aspects such as designs, features, pricing, and others.

As a result, acquiescence bias makes drawing solid conclusions from collected data difficult. When you use surveys with acquiescence bias to make product decisions, you risk creating or optimizing your product for a non-existent target audience.

The submissions do not reflect the participants’ opinions, as a result, your product is not what they want, but what they said they wanted, which is not the same thing and can cost your company a lot of money.

Ways to Prevent Acquiescence Bias in a Survey

  • Design Short and Simple Surveys

Short and simple surveys are less likely to overwhelm and fatigue participants than long and complex surveys. When surveys are simple, respondents are less likely to give abstract answers because they understand the question and can properly analyze it before answering.

You can also show survey progress so that respondents know how many questions they have to answer and how much time they have left to answer the survey questions.

  • Be Neutral

When asking respondents questions about sensitive topics, it’s important to be as neutral as possible. Respondents may find it difficult to answer sensitive questions honestly if they believe there is a specific answer they should give.

It will also be difficult to elicit truthful responses from participants if they are aware that their responses on such a sensitive subject are being scrutinized. You can avoid this by using neutral language that clearly shows you don’t have expectations about how they should respond.

Also, reassure respondents of their data privacy; if they know their responses will be anonymous, they are more likely to be forthcoming and provide honest feedback.

  • Be Clear and Intentional

When developing survey questions, make sure they can’t be misinterpreted to mean something else. Asking questions that are unclear and open to other interpretations can lead to respondents giving inaccurate responses because they are unsure of what the question means or perceive it to mean something else.

Even if you’ve made a question simple and clear, if you notice that it has the potential to be confusing, add placeholder text to help respondents understand it.

For example, how long does it normally take you to get ready for work on a typical day?

The phrase “a typical day” can mean different things to different people. Include a placeholder text that says, “Think of a typical day as a work day where you’re not late and in a hurry” to make it easier for your participants.

Creating simple surveys prevents participants from becoming frustrated with complex questions and simply selecting answers to complete the survey rather than expressing their opinions. Most participants have no hesitation in answering questions accurately and with intent when they are clear.

Also, informing respondents how their responses will be used makes them more intentional about their responses because they know their responses will be used for a specific purpose.

  • Use Open-Ended Questions

Instead of being limited to only specified answers, open-ended questions ask respondents to use their words to specify their answers. If the options do not accurately reflect how the participants want to answer the question, an open-ended text box allows respondents to answer the questions in any way they want with any answer they want.

For example, what are your favorite ice cream flavors? 

Because there are so many different flavors of ice cream, specifying specific flavors limits the participants’ options. Use an open-textbox to allow participants to specify their favorite flavor.

When dealing with sentiments, providing a wide range of sentiments such as extremely likely, somewhat likely, unsure, unlikely, and extremely unlikely gives respondents room to express how they feel.

  • Avoid Leading questions

A leading question suggests what the participants’ responses should be to a question that elicits creative responses. Even if there are no physical interviews, questions in online surveys can be suggestive, and respondents may feel compelled to respond in a certain way.

For example, do you prefer virtual or in-person interviews? The question assumes that respondents prefer an interview format when, in fact, respondents may not like either.

Respondents choose an option because they have to, not because they agree with it when asked questions like this.

  • Collect Responses from the Right Audience

In surveys, the right audience makes all the difference. When selecting survey participants, make sure they are people who can provide insightful responses to your study.

When choosing your survey pool, make sure they are people who are qualified to answer your question based on their demographic, nationality, buyer profile, and other factors. 

For example, when asking questions about a new UK e-commerce app for young adults that do not ship outside the UK, participants should be UK young adults who shop using e-commerce apps.

  • Help Respondents Focus

Ambiguous or complicated questions make it difficult for respondents to focus during the survey. 

Use simple words when creating the survey, make it engaging with multimedia, and add subtitles to clarify the meaning of the questions. These measures help your respondents focus on the survey and actively answer questions.

You can also only display one question per page, allowing them to concentrate entirely on the question they are answering. One of the best ways to help people understand questions is to keep their attention on the question.

  • Be Transparent

Including survey disclaimers about how respondents’ data will be used assures them of their privacy, and they are more likely to provide honest answers because they know their answers will be kept private.

  • Redesign questions

Allow participants to make unconventional choices when designing a survey. Instead of simply adding yes or no. You can include a third option, such as an open-ended ‘other’ that allows respondents to specify how they want to answer the question.

Conclusion

Customer feedback is important in helping to grow your brand, but only if it is genuine. When the responses are not genuine, the research is a waste of time and can even lead to you making costly product decisions.

Acquiescence bias can be undetectable at times, but taking preventive measures such as designing simple survey questions, including open-ended questions, and more can help avoid it.


  • Moradeke Owa
  • on 8 min read

Formplus

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