How Psychology Addresses Research Bias

Man looking at a brain through a magnifying glass.

In psychological research, objectivity is the key to accuracy. Unfortunately, bias is unavoidable. Biases are the inclinations, tendencies or opinions of researchers that may skew the results of their work. Because all experiments are designed and carried out by humans, they all contain at least some potential for bias. Solving for this variable, therefore, is crucial in obtaining reliable data.

Types of Research Bias

Biases can be found in all stages of research and are plentiful in their types. Here are just a few examples:

Selection/Sampling Bias

Selection or sampling bias can be found during the planning phase of research. It occurs when the criteria used to find subjects for various research groups are inherently different, according to the Center for Innovation in Research and Teaching. For example, a study that examines individuals’ feelings on gun control that only selects members of a certain political party may produce unreliable results. This means that data collected cannot accurately represent the general population.

Design Bias

Design bias can also be found in the planning phase. It happens when researchers use subjective criteria in distinguishing between subject groups. As a result, the criteria that separate groups may be arbitrary instead of statistically significant.

Measurement Bias

Commonly occurring during the research phase, this bias describes when researchers measure something poorly, without rigor. Doing so distorts the validity of the data collected.

Response Bias

Response bias describes when only certain types of subjects respond to an invitation to enter a study. This, similar to selection bias, causes the study group not to be representative of the larger population.

Performance Bias

This bias occurs during trial implementation and describes when participants or researchers act differently because of their participation in a study. Performance bias complicates data and makes it more difficult to establish cause-and-effect relationships.

Reporting Bias

Reporting bias describes any number of discrepancies that occur in the reporting of a study, Trials Journal explains. These discrepancies are influenced by the data’s nature and outcomes. Various forms of reporting bias include:

  • Publication bias: whether research is published or not
  • Time lag bias: whether the publication of research is done quickly or on a delayed timeline
  • Multiple publication bias: whether research is published in a single journal or multiple journals
  • Location bias: the discrepancy of publishing research in journals with various ease of access
  • Citation bias: whether research receives citation or not
  • Language bias: when research is published in one language over another
  • Outcome reporting bias: when only some outcomes are reported from a study

Because these and other types of research bias are so prevalent, a wide range of safeguards have been created to minimize or eliminate their effects.

Controlling Research Bias

Controlling bias in psychological research is done through any number of rigorous practices. One prominent method is the use of “blind studies,” wherein either the participant, the researcher or both are unaware of which subjects are in a control group and which are not.

In Identifying and Avoiding Bias in Research, authors Christopher J. Pannucci and Edwin G. Wilkins outline additional ways researchers may counteract the problem at hand. Some include:

  • Using rigorous criteria for participant selection and assignment
  • Ensuring participants come from the same general population
  • Standardizing all interactions between researchers and their subjects
  • Avoiding the use of out-of-date control parameters
  • Registering all studies with the appropriate bodies
  • Researching to see if similar studies have occurred that are either unpublished or in progress

Advancement in psychological research can only be made with the right data. By accounting for the flaws with which humans operate in pursuing knowledge, researchers can obtain the most relevant information available and, through it, advance their fields.

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