Cognitive biases are a group of biases faced when conducting an emotional research. Cognitive biases are any biases introduced by cognitive reasoning and emotion (Zambardino & Goodfellow 2007).
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Therefore, cognitive biases are errors in research introduced when information is processed through cognitive filters resulting in misinterpretation of what is real. There are two types of cognitive biases; those introduced by the subject’s thought flow and those introduced by researcher’s cognitive reasoning.
Cognitive biases arising from the respondent’s effects include group-think or herd behavior bias and availability bias. Group-think also known as herd behavior bias is a form of irrational behavior introduced when a survey expects subjects to respond as a group.
Researchers face herd behavior when using data collection tools like group interviews and focus group discussion. Study subjects are likely to respond in the same way when grouped (Baron 2007). This suggests that a group first reaches a consensus either actively or unconsciously before giving a response.
Individual members of the group who may have different opinions may abandon them in favor of the common stand. Therefore, herd behavior significantly influences the result of a qualitative research. To avoid or reduce this bias, researchers ought to interview respondents individually.
However, this does not remove the need for focus group discussions in research. Some surveys focus on the overall community opinion as opposed to individual view. Therefore, type and objectives of study will largely influence choice of a data collection method.
Availability bias is a cognitive bias introduced by the consumer’s state of memory. Subjects usually remember certain events more than others. In turn, emotions surrounding events largely influence memory.
People may remember instances of bullying in school vividly but fail to remember when it started and whether they have been bullies. In such circumstances cognitive reasoning adjusts respondents’ answers. Answers may not give enough detail leaving the investigator with less accurate findings.
To reduce the effects of this bias a surveyor should draft both first and probing questions in such a way that they allow the study population to use conscious memory and not emotional memory which works subconsciously. There are several methods used to provoke conscious memory.
The most commonly used methods include imagining and imagery. These techniques enable the respondent to give emotional responses objectively without letting cognitive and logical reasoning interfere with them.
Biases arising from the investigator’s cognitive reasoning include confirmation bias and hindsight bias. Researchers introduce the two forms of cognitive bias into a survey unconsciously.
When an investigator follows a particular line of thinking without giving room for new information he introduces confirmation bias into the study. Confirmation bias appears when a surveyor follows a particular preconceived idea that is not subject to change or adjustment by new ideas.
Put differently, the researcher has a formed opinion and needs to confirm this opinion. In such instances the interviewer ignores any evidence that suggests a contrary result. Narrow ended questioning is another evidence of this bias. To lessen the effects of this bias, a study should develop neutral research questions.
Impartial questions give the researcher an opportunity to get data without investigator influence. In addition, surveyors should approach research with an open mind. Investigators should be aware that honest opinions of target population add more value to the study.
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Hindsight bias also known as anchoring is bias that occurs when a researcher has an expected result in mind when conducting a research. Hindsight bias may be defined as ‘when a surveyor overrates predictability of events’.
Hindsight bias may cloud judgment of a researcher thus resulting in ignorance of important findings of research (Martin 2012). Interviewers should be aware of hindsight bias when analyzing data so they do not manipulate results to conform to a certain result.
An investigator should also avoid letting expectations of result interfere with the line of questioning. When participants sense that interviewers have particular expectations in mind, they are likely to give answers to satisfy the expectations.
This paper analyzed impact of cognitive bias on research. Types of cognitive bias include those introduced by subjects and those introduced by researchers. Biases related to subjects include availability bias and group-think bias. Availability bias is irrational behavior characterized by superficial answers.
Research subjects give answers that are within reach. Group-think bias is a condition in which respondents abandon individual answers in favor of group responses. Surveyor related cognitive biases include confirmation bias and hindsight bias.
Conformation bias is when an investigator has a predetermined result in mind. Hindsight bias occurs when a interviewer overrates the predictability of certain findings.
Baron, J 2007, Thinking and deciding (4th ed.), Cambridge University Press, New York.
Martin, H 2012, ‘Toward a synthesis of cognitive biases: How noisy information processing can bias human decision making’, Psychological Bulletin, vol.138, no. 2, pp. 211–237. Web.
Zambardino, A & Goodfellow, J 2007, ‘Being ‘Affective’ in Branding?’, Journal of Marketing Managaement, vol. 23, no.1-2, pp. 27-37.