Five cognitive biases that can hugely impact your research

Published 19 May 2021 3 minute read

Market research
Online qual

Most people like to believe that they consistently make fair judgements and statements, free of bias and prejudgment. However, as psychological
research has evidenced, time and time again, no one is immune
from cognitive bias. Everyone would benefit from becoming more aware of these biases; but for professional researchers, this is absolutely imperative.

Of course, it is the researcher’s responsibility to be aware of, and (where possible) to mitigate the effect of any known biases, to gather an honest read on feelings and opinions. This is important to achieve good quality feedback, to provide reasonable and gainful orientation and make clear and appropriate client recommendations.

Beyond the opportunity to mitigate or reduce bias effects, we might seek to harness these natural tendencies for the benefits of our research. It is also important to remember that we, as researchers, now live in an age where we are effectively bargaining for people’s time and attention against a variety of competing sources. Hence, where appropriate and ethical, we might further consider opportunities to activate or control these biases, to enhance levels of research commitment and motivation.

There are, quite literally, hundreds of different types of bias one might consider,
so here we will focus on those with the clearest and most direct implications
for effective online research community task design and moderation, and the
ones that might generate the greatest client value.

1. Confirmation Bias

Clients can occasionally arrive with a very preconceived notion of what it takes to explore a particular topic or theme, or of the particular theme that they think needs exploring. This typically involves over-reliance on a single type of research methodology or a narrow focus on a set of questions that might confirm expectations while missing out relevant disconfirming information.

Implications for online qualitative research:

  • Use your breadth of experience to make further suggestions and present ideas, and to leverage the versatile opportunities for online research community engagement. This often results in a multi-discipline approach, more capable of delivering against the client’s business and research objectives
  • Triangulate methods to maximise validity whilst meeting your clients time and budgetary constraints. Consider the range of community tools and techniques at your disposal (i.e. discussions, surveys, markup tool exercises and diaries). Each particular tool and methodology has its merits, however combining them can provide a result greater than the sum of its individual parts

2. Order Effects

This refers to the impact on the nature and quality of feedback that researchers obtain from participants based on the order in which they introduce activities and questions.

Implications for online qualitative research:

  • Consider sequencing online research community activities so that private / individual tasks that are uninfluenced by others (e.g. surveys, polls, unbiased blogs) occur before open, ‘biased’ group discussions.
  • Exploring behaviors prior to attitudes, and ask general questions before more specific questions, funneling and drilling down
  • Consider opportunities to phase aspects of your enquiries, for instance explore communications that attract and engage attention, prior to the assessment of concepts

3. Reciprocity Bias

This describes the impulse to give when we receive. People feel much more inclined to share information about themselves if you first share information about yourself; if you give them something.

Implications for online qualitative research:

  • Trigger your participants’ generosity by sharing with them something about you, your role and the mission / purpose of the community. If you share information via your community, you are not only reciprocating, but also implicitly revealing task and commitment expectations
  • Be empathic towards the experience of participants in your research and lead by example. For instance, if video forms a crucial part of your agenda, consider posting a video on
    your community home page to help make your introduction, share expectations and allay
    any potential concerns

4. Social Desirability

This refers to the tendency to over-report socially desirable characteristics or behaviours. In general people want to please others. We all have a natural tendency to discuss (i.e. promote) aspects of our lives and relationships in a positive light.

Implications for online qualitative research:

  • ‘House rules’ can help to develop a stimulating discussion environment based on open and honest sharing, but your approach to moderation will also be crucial, challenging and probing when required. Remain objective and avoid over-indulging ‘glowing’ perspectives when moderating
  • Try to conceal your expectations of what would be the ‘desirable’ outcome that your client would like to see when framing your enquiries
  • Consider the range of online research communities tools available to engage on a private and social basis. You may wish to consider restricting the ability to view other members feedback prior to posting, thus mitigating the effects associated with social desirability bias

5. Consensus

This is the tendency to harmonise in agreement when participants engage in group conversations. Consensus bias is particularly likely to occur in circumstances that are less familiar, where people look to the behaviour of others and in turn judge how they might themselves behave.

Implications for online qualitative research:

  • Beyond setting expectations and house rules consider the varying relationships with your client’s product, service, brand, or indeed the category in question. You may wish to consider potential to recruit separately engage ‘segments’ and in your community tasks and activities.
  • For instance, if you are interested to explore cooking behaviour and the perceived merits of preparing food using different brands it might make sense to separately engage loyal users of different brands in conversation

In conclusion

While bias is an inevitable part of human cognitive functioning and it makes for
much better research practice if researchers are aware of likely biases and can
think of creative ways to minimise or, indeed, harness them in their favour.
Online research provides a way to address different sources of bias.

Methods can be triangulated in a single online environment, with further
scope to sequence and mix private and social activities, and set tasks as
biased or unbiased.

In addition, online research conducted asynchronously enables relationships
to develop over time. This has inherent risks in terms of generating social
desirability, but it can also make for much better evidence and insight, because reciprocity can be actively encouraged.

Yours to keep

cognitive-biases

Yours to keep

cognitive-biases

Discover our platform and services

Platform-only

The insight platform for online qual, research communities, digital diaries, ethnography and more.

Services & Support

A range of expert research services and resources to help you deliver your projects with ease, speed and reach.

Expertise

Human insight with impact; leveraging our academic and industry experts to uncover insight, create impact and make confident decisions.

Zwift image
Zwift-logo

Strategically, Further’s insights provided clear and directional answers that will guide us through our next phase of growth

We helped Zwift understand users and non-users needs and wants so they could prioritise their innovation pipeline

Macmillan
macmillan-cancer-support

The online research community approach represents a cost-effective means of engaging with a wide group of individuals, many of whom are often harder to engage

We helped Macmillan Cancer Support understand why the national Cancer Patients Experience Survey documents that ethnic minority, LGBTQ+ and older cancer patients consistently report more negative experiences and outcomes in cancer services.

Conde-Nast
Conde_Nast_logo-copy

We were amazed at the level of insight we achieved in just a week. Further opened our eyes to new ways of researching and understanding our staff

We helped Conde Nast International define a new global mission and vision statement

van-tay-media-Kab_-4M4I74-unsplash
Vouch-for-Me-Logo

Further really understood the brief and were extremely proactive. We are now very confident that we’re taking the right products and proposition to market.

We helped this insuretech startup tailor their customer value proposition for the UK market ahead of a planned launch

Keyhouse
Keyhouse

Further's expert team pushed us to clarify assumptions and think about how to communicate the value of our products

We helped Keyhouse enter a new market and understand what target users of their case management software needed and how to position their offer

Linkedin image
Linkedin

With Further’s support, our developed understanding of employees’ needs has helped us to create more effective and compelling L&D solutions

We helped LinkedIn engage with their employees to discover, create, evolve and iterate new Learning and Development solutions.

What next?

Browse our site, download our resources, request a demo of our platform or speak to one of our experts

Browse our work
Contact Us