Acquiescence Bias

a depressed woman sitting in a bathtub

Acquiescence Bias is the human (social) propensity to portray a positive or agreeable overtone when questioned or queried (or vice versa – disagreement). 

Psychologists refer to it as “yah-saying” and define it as the tendency to agree with a statement when in doubt. If someone is unsure of the answer, they will often agree rather than disagree with the proposition put to them.

Psychologists and data managers have identified this bias prevalent in surveys and polls. It is often the reason for false positives in statistical or consensus information.

Acquiescence Bias
Group think and tribalism

How to deal

One approach to dealing with Acquiescence Bias when undertaking surveys and questionnaires is to balance positively and negatively keyed items. For example, in assessing depression, they should include items assessing happiness and contentedness (reverse keyed items) adjacent to depression-related content.

In addition, studies show that an inverse correlation exists between Acquiescence Bias and education, cognition and intelligence. Meisenberg and Williams (2008) -That is, education and income are inversely related to the inclination to agree with most statements in a questionnaire. 

Education and income are also inversely associated with extreme responses. This is the tendency of some individuals to disagree strongly or agree with most of the statements on the survey rather than either mildly disagree and agree or feel undecided. 

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Both acquiescence and extreme responses might reflect neglected complications.

Other studies in communications conclude that the key to limiting the errors in data attributed to Acquiescence Bias is in the proper construction and structuring of the questionnaires and the queries. 

Any insinuation to the psychology of communication and that communicative competencies (grammatical, socio-linguistic and strategic) are essential to social understanding and overcoming social limitations.

“Acquiescent response style (ARS) – the tendency of a respondent to endorse agreement on a question independent of what the question is trying to measure. ARS has been identified in survey research as a bias to survey results. This research is often weighted to prospectively correcting for respondent disposition in question construction.”

Jason Engle May 10, 2010

Knowles & Nathan (1997) argued that acquiescent response is also related to beliefs and personality; they indicated that individuals who demonstrate this bias tend to display prejudiced and intolerant behaviours. 

Because of the self-appointed, conscientious (as it refers to doing what is “right” according to one’s own beliefs) attitude of those susceptible to Acquiescence bias, they do not accept unconventional practices and tend to be discriminatory and racist.

This bias mirrors the innate human need to comply with social expectations in a broad anthropological sense. It is also a profound implication of the mechanism you adapt to facilitate social adaptation, acceptance and balance.

— The Devil Unbound, from the Analects of Peyton Dracco

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