Sunday, November 14, 2010

Social Desirability

Once in a while, I read stuff and come across an interesting word or phrase that amuses me. It makes me feel that I always knew what it is about, but never had a term coined for it. Social desirability (and social desirability bias) are two such terms.

So what is social desirability? Rather, what are the actions you do, subconsciously or otherwise, to gain social desirability? Ever saw that group picture of yours where you strangely look a little constipated? That was because the moment the photographer was about to click, you decided to tuck in your tummy in hopes of looking slimmer. Did you end up looking slimmer? Well, you really don’t want to know, do you?

“So how many times a week do you frequent the gym?”, asked someone. You tend to overestimate the frequency, unless you know you don’t frequent the gym at all and hence say something like, “Gymming doesn’t show results. People who gym are wasting their time”. Do you happen to run more frequently these days because your annual body check up is due in a few weeks? Remember when the woman at the drivers’ licensing office asked what your weight was (to put in your state id) and you told her how much you used to weigh 5 years ago? 

Ever tweaked your height by an innocuous inch? Ever mentioned on Facebook how much you enjoy running when the truth is you just started running after 3 years of procrastination? Ever wore that “Proud to be an IIT-ian” tee shirt around on your visit to the city, only to reason that every other piece of clothing you had is in the laundry? (It did earn you some glances from women, didn’t it?)

Height. Weight. Fitness level. Salary. Caste. College. We do it all the time, sub-consciously or conscious-innocuously. How it leads to social desirability bias and screws the data collection for social scientists trying to study human behavior through self-reported measures is a different story altogether. I am not saying it is a wrong thing, or one must not to do because someone you don’t remember anymore once told you years ago that honesty is the best policy. What amuses me (and made me write this post) is the realization that others do it, and I have done it too, not realizing until now that the phenomenon had a name.



Anonymous said...

I see that "Social Desirability" and "Proud to be IITian" are the only words in bold :P

And just to set the record straight, that T-Shirt gets you a lot of unwanted attention especially from parents whose kids are in Kota or other JEE factories but none of the wanted attention from the female attention. Take it from someone who tried ;) :))

Just saying... :D

- Suryansh

sunshine said...

Suryansh, man, where have you been? :) The highlighting was totally unintentional, I can assure you!