"Everything Is Perfect, and We Have No Problems": Detecting and Limiting Social Desirability Bias in Qualitative Research

Qual Health Res. 2020 Apr;30(5):783-792. doi: 10.1177/1049732319889354. Epub 2019 Dec 13.


Many qualitative research studies acknowledge the possibility of social desirability bias (a tendency to present reality to align with what is perceived to be socially acceptable) as a limitation that creates complexities in interpreting findings. Drawing on experiences conducting interviews and focus groups in rural Ethiopia, this article provides an empirical account of how one research team developed and employed strategies to detect and limit social desirability bias. Data collectors identified common cues for social desirability tendencies, relating to the nature of the responses given and word choice patterns. Strategies to avoid or limit bias included techniques for introducing the study, establishing rapport, and asking questions. Pre-fieldwork training with data collectors, regular debriefing sessions, and research team meetings provided opportunities to discuss social desirability tendencies and refine approaches to account for them throughout the research. Although social desirability bias in qualitative research may be intractable, it can be minimized.

Keywords: Ethiopia; methodology; qualitative research; social desirability bias.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bias
  • Ethiopia
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Social Desirability*

Grant support