Did you answer “no”?  If so, then you have a bias.  It’s called a blind spot.  But don’t be too hard on yourself.  Truth is, we’ve been hardwired for bias since we were Neanderthals.  It was necessary for survival.  See that tiger?  Maybe you saw one just like it shred your best friend.  So, next time you see anything that resembles a furry animal with stripes you are going run like hell, right?  Or let’s say you’re out in the woods and see a yummy looking red berry that poisoned your sister?  Note to self: small red berries are bad, bad, bad. Don’t eat them.

Biases are baked into our brains.  They are unconscious processes our brains use to “cut to the chase”.  A cognitive shortcut. They happen in a split second before we can even detect  them. When faced with a furry animal with stripes are you going to stand there and decide if it it’s dangerous?  Not if you want to stay intact.  Run first and think later.  And that’s why it’s impossible to not be biased in some way.  Market researchers in particular need to be aware that they are not free from bias.  If not, they risk inaccurate research results.

Six Most Common Biases

Blind Spot
A bias survey of 661 people reported that only one person thought he/she was more biased than the average person. The rest said they were less biased than the average person.  Researchers can tend to believe they know how to ask unbiased questions.  Blind spot?  Bingo.

Confirmation Bias
Confirmation bias has been described as an internal “yes man”, echoing back a person’s beliefs. Studies have found repeatedly that people often test hypotheses in a one-sided way, by searching for evidence consistent with their current belief.  Confirmation bias happens when we look for the consequences that we would expect if a belief were true verses if a belief was false.  Asking questions to receive an affirmative answer that supports your theory can lead to gather inaccurate data.

Observer Expectancy Effect
We can inadvertently ask questions in a way that may subtly communicate societal expectations.  People are likely to respond according to what’s in line with social standards they think should be met. For example, “Are your children’s clothes still dirty after you wash them?”  Some mothers, who’s children’s clothes are still dirty after washing them may answer “no”.  Mothers (vs fathers) tend to believe the cleanliness their children’s clothes is a reflection on them as a mother.   Answering “yes” to that question is an admission of an inability instead of an ineffective laundry detergent or a faulty washing machine.  A better way might be to ask “How well does your laundry detergent/washing machine clean your child’s clothes?”  However it doesn’t mean you can’t drill down later into how they feel.   Just pose the question in a way that takes the focus off the mother.  For instance, “What do you think others might think when they see a child whose clothes aren’t clean?” 

Framing Effect
This is a cognitive bias that happens when we are asked a question in a way that is influenced by the presentation.  The framing effect has positive or negative or negative connotations that come with a consequence such as a gain or loss outcome. People tend to weigh their perception of risk.  For example the following question has a gain vs loss risk.  “When shopping for a disinfectant, do you look for a product that kills 95% of all germs over one where 5% of germs will survive?”. That said, the framing effect can also be extremely helpful for messaging.  Why?  Because if most people say they would look for a disinfectant that kills 95% of all germs, then that needs to be on the product label.

Cultural Bias
We tend to interpret words or actions according to the culturally derived meaning that’s been assigned to them.  In the case of niche markets, it’s important to remember this is a common bias.  We often think of culture as being based on ethnicity. However, no culture is a monolith. There are subcultures and within those there are micro cultures. such as organic growers, biohackers, skateboarders and so on.  Micro cultures are what comprise niche markets and their members identify themselves through what defines their shared interests.  For instance, the way biohacker culture differentiates itself from mainstream health culture. So if you identify with the mainstream health culture and you’re doing biohacker market research, remember the slightest hint that you think their beliefs are “weird” will create a wall between two very different health cultures.

Curse of Knowledge
Sometimes we unknowingly assume that others have the same knowledge and understanding as ourselves.   The curse of knowledge means that the more familiar we are with something, the harder it is to put ourselves in the shoes of someone who’s unfamiliar with the same thing. Because of the way our brains work, it’s hard to unlearn what we know. And that makes it difficult to see with fresh eyes.  Ever spent 3 frustrating hours with assembly instructions where it’s assumed you know things that you don’t?   That’s because the curse of knowledge makes it harder to explain the basics to people who are new to the subject.

How to Keep Bias in Check
Simply accept that biases exist and that you have them.   Maybe have someone else take a look at your work and ask if they see signs of a possible bias

Don’t be disappointed in yourself about being biased.  Remember, we are human. We all have long-gone primitive ancestors that passed down a genetic code that’s necessary to not only our survival, but to the survival of all non-stationary life forms.  So, when you discover a bias, it’s not the end of the world.  It’s just the end of that bias.