Researcher bias and Reflexivity

Researcher bias

A participant’s behaviour in a research study can be affected by the way that the researcher interacts with them. For example, if the researcher knows whether a Pps is in the experimental as opposed to the control group, he or she may act differently towards them as they have different expectancies based on this knowledge. This may be unintentional but it is an important source of bias which decreases the validity and thus the credibility of the findings.

This can be avoided using a single blind design (whereby the researcher who collects data from the participants does not know whether they are in the experimental or control group).

Qualitative researchers think very deeply about the credibility of the data they collect and the role of researcher bias. They believe that they are not collecting data solely from the participant/subject (as a unit of study) but recognise that they, as a researcher are an integral part of the data that is collected due to the interaction between participant and themselves. This stems from a shared understanding amongst qualitative researchers, that meaning is socially constructed (between the Pps and the researchers) and thus data collection can never be a truly objective pursuit as the data, as the search for meaning id a subjective and interpretative process.

Qualitative researcher’s minimise researcher bias by reflecting upon personal biases and assumptions that may affect the way in which they have conducted their research, from the point at which the research question was formulated through the drawing of conclusions. This is known as reflexivity.

In simple terms the concept of reflexivity not only…

  • acknowledges the possibility of bias in the research process
  • due to choices made about the methodology
  • and the individual background/dispositional factors relating to the researcher, him or herself

it is also…

  • a means to discover possible biases in the research process

reflexive: PowerPoint

reflexivity-activity-nov-2012 Activity to help include line references in your responses and also to demonstrate how to read an extract whilst remaining mindful of reflexivity.

Key terms

  • epistemological reflexivity
  • personal reflexivity
  • reflexivity journal/field diary