Acquiescence Bias is the human (social) propensity to portray a positive or agreeable overtone when question or queried (or vice versa – disagreement). It is also referred to as “yah-saying” and defined by psychologists 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.
Psychologist and data managers have identified this bias as prevalent in surveys and polls. It is often the reason for false-positives reached in statistical or consensus information.
One approach to dealing with Acquiescence Bias when undertaking surveys and questionnaires is to employ a balance of positively and negatively keyed items. For example, in trying to assess depression, it would be a good idea to also 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 inversely related to extreme responses as well, which is the tendency of some individuals to strongly disagree or agree with most of the statements on the survey rather than either mildly disagree and agree or feel undecided. Both acquiescence and extreme responses might reflect a neglect of complications.
Other studies in communications have concluded 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. An insinuation to the psychology of communication, and that communicative competences (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 be prejudice and intolerant. 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 therefore tend to be prejudiced and racist.
On a broad anthropological sense, this bias is a reflection of our innate need to comply with social expectation. It is also a profound implication of the mechanism we are willing to adopt to facilitate social adaptation, acceptance and balance.