Let's get ethical: dealing with socially desirable responding online

Ian Brace

Prof. Clive Nancarrow
Bristol Business School


Fisher (2000) notes “marketing researchers have not placed the same emphasis on SDB as their counterparts in other fields”. The authors were sufficiently concerned about the bias caused by socially desirable responding in marketing research that they reviewed methods of dealing with it (Nancarrow, Brace & Wright 2001). Because marketing researchers are focusing increasingly on the issues of corporate and consumer social responsibility and other ethical behaviour, there is a clear need to revisit Social Desirability Bias (SDB) in interviews on these topics to determine whether it exists and if so, which techniques might reduce it. SDB leads to over-reporting of what is socially desirable, under-reporting of what is not and, of course, confounds to varying degrees attempts to examine the nature of relationships within the data (Ganster, Hennessey & Luthans 1983). We note three potential motivations for SDB, ways of detecting whether SDB is present and then evaluate ways of reducing or even eliminating the problem. The research techniques to reduce SDB include assurances of confidentiality and/or anonymity, face saving questioning, indirect questioning, the bogus pipeline (BPL), proxy respondents and the randomised response techniques (RRT). The authors also report on a test of two approaches to reduce SDB online – a reassurance of confidentiality and face saving techniques (by means of question wording and scale length). We use SDR (Socially Desirable Responding) as an alternative description where it makes more sense.