Measuring perception…

A week ago, a doctoral business student was referred to me for a discussion about a specific research design. While the primary research question was somewhat convoluted, once edited the focus was on measuring perception of a behavior in a group through the lens of another (the sample), then relating that perception of the group to the sample’s perception of project performance. If one were to ask a survey participant a single question, it would be “What do you think the relationship is between A and B?” This type of question falls into the category (loosely) of (public) opinion research, not business research.

Research into perceptions (and attitudes) are often studied using a qualitative research methodology. The perception of something or someone is generally explored via interviews, where the researcher collapses groups of thoughts into themes that answer the research question. This type of approach is often covered in some depth in many research methods and design textbooks.

When it comes to quantitative research, though, measuring perception is focused on the self-assessment of a sample. For example, the Perceived Stress Scale for measuring the perception of stress, or the Buss-Durkee Hostility Inventory for measuring aspects of hostility and guilt; both instruments developed by psychologists.

Using a subject’s perception of another person is problematic due to cognitive bias. This type of bias involves the systematic error in one’s perception of others. Within cognitive bias, there are three groups –

  • Fundamental Attribution Error, which involves labeling people without sufficient information, knowledge or time
  • Confirmation Bias, which is widely referred to as a common judgmental bias. Research has shown that people trick their minds on focusing on a small piece of information to confirm already developed belief
  • Self-serving Bias, which involves perceiving a situation in a manner so to plays the one perceiving in a more positive light

How would you measure validity in the proposed study? Have the sample assess behaviors in people, measure the behaviors of the people, compare the two assessments for accuracy, and factor that accuracy into the study? Seems like a long way to go, and all you are really doing is measuring the assessment ability of the sample.

I don’t know who’s at fault here for not identifying this type of fundamental issue before the student’s research proposal was developed. It may have been identified by faculty along the way and ignored by the student? It could be faculty didn’t really understand what the student was proposing due to how the research question was formed?


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