Demand Characteristics – Examples & Prevention

20.03.23 Research bias overview Time to read: 6min

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Demand characteristics, often intertwined with research bias, are prevalent in psychology, especially in lab-based studies where participants are aware of the study’s objectives. Such characteristics can elucidate how involvement in a study influences behavior and attitudes. When participants discern the study’s intent, they may, due to these demand characteristics and associated research bias, distort or compromise the validity of communication and social science experiments.

Demand Characteristics – In a Nutshell

  • Questionable demand characteristics introduce distortion into the research process.
  • Research designs that fail to account for or adequately deal with prospective demand features can provide invalid findings.
  • Given the human nature of the subjects, demand characteristics are prevalent in psychology and the social sciences.

Definition: Demand characteristics

Demand characteristics are factors unrelated to the core analysis and can have an impact on the findings. Participants may be prompted to alter their replies, either knowingly or unconsciously, by these signs.

Where do demand characteristics come from?

There are various potential origins for demand characteristics in experimental psychology. These should be seen as hints about the research hypothesis. Among them are:

  • Recruiting materials study title.
  • Rumours subjected to the research.
  • Communication between the researcher and subject.
  • Context of Research.
  • Useful gadgets and equipment.

As participants become aware of certain aspects of the research, they are under concealed “demands” to behave in a certain manner. Depending on the situation, they may be hard to see or glaringly evident. They can be hidden or obvious.


You are an expert on how music may lift one’s spirits. Moods are measured after bringing participants into a psychology lab and playing them with various musical clips. You provide an interesting comparison between three distinct musical genres. After hearing each for 30 seconds, participants are asked to evaluate their feelings.

Participants may infer the purpose of the experiment from the sequence in which the hearing and mood-rating activities are presented.

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Demand characteristics impacting participants

People taking part in your research may be able to determine its purpose from its presentation or location, which may impact their actions. This shift in conduct occurs because it’s difficult to pretend to be ignorant once you have an idea of the experiment’s goal. There are four possible roles that players might take in a given situation:

Good Subject Negative Subject Apprehensive Subject Faithful Subject
The subject is eager to assist, so they offer to back up the scientist's concerns. The subject actively works to disprove the idea being tested. The participant crafts the most popular responses possible to avoid negative feedback. The participant does the task as though they were unaware of the study's assumptions.

The good subject role

Good subjects actively apply what they have learned to aid in your study.

Some people find meaning in their actions by contributing in this manner.


When a subject understands the purpose of your research, they will likely want to fit in. People report feeling more optimistic after hearing uplifting music and gloomier after listening to quiet music.

The negative subject role

Subjects assigned the negative role may attempt to undermine the research by behaving erratically or providing false information. Some people may volunteer for this job if they feel like they are being told what to do all the time.


Some college students forced to participate in research projects for passing grades may have a heightened sense of resistance when working in a research lab.

Demand Characteristics: Internal & External Validity

When demand characteristics provide an alternate rationale for a study’s findings, the study’s findings might be disregarded. It’s a danger to internal and external credibility. It is risky to experiment with demand characteristics because of the potential for manipulating the results.


Internal Validity: You changed the music your subjects listened to while also monitoring their emotional responses in your study on the correlation between the two. Statistically speaking, you discover that various types of music elicit varying degrees of emotional response from listeners. Yet, the features of demand may affect the replies of the participants. Your measurements may misrepresent the outcomes of your experimental modification.

Demand characteristics can reduce the external validity of your research. Depending on the abundance of these indicators, it may be impossible to extend your results to the broader population or other contexts.


External Validity: The artificial lab environment, the arrangement of activities, and the study materials all contribute to the demand characteristics of your research.

Since people are prepared to behave in a certain manner in your experiment, it might be challenging to generalise results from the lab to the real world. It’s possible that your results cannot be extrapolated to the actual world since these aspects of demand aren’t always present.

Controlling Demand Characteristics

Some careful planning and use of research tools will allow you to manipulate demand characteristics. Using these techniques, you may lessen the likelihood that the features of demand characteristics. Using these techniques, you may lessen the likelihood that the features of demand will distort your results.


It is ethically permissible to utilise deception in research if it is justified and will not cause any damage to the participants. When subjects finish the research, it is important to have a discussion with them to explain the study’s true objectives.


Participants are given a cover narrative to conceal the experiment’s purpose. You inform them the study is on how various tones alter memory. You give them filler memory tests that support your cover tale. While listening to the music and assessing their mood, participants memorise a list of words.

Between-Groups Designs

One of the two common designs in quantitative research is between-groups or within-groups. Within-group designs provide all possible treatments for subjects’ independent variables, whereas between-group designs provide just one solution for independent variables.

Double-blind Design

Participants in an experiment are not told whether they are in the treatment or control group if blinding or masking is used. A double-blind design conceals the condition assignments from both the researchers and the subjects.


Single- Blind and Double-Blind Designs:

Follow-up studies employ a between-subjects, single-blind design. Control and treatment groups are allocated to participants. The therapy group should have better moods. Because of your assumptions, you inadvertently make treatment group members happier. This trial is repeated double-blind. Because you do not know who is in which category, you treat everyone equally.

Implicit Measurements

Implicit or hidden measurements in psychology reflect cognitive skills, characteristics, and behaviours that individuals may not be able to describe. When participants are unaware of the task, implicit measurements may diminish demand characteristics. These methods can potentially conceal your study’s purpose.


Instead of self-reporting mood, utilise an indirect measure. You estimate emotions using a word completion assignment. A participant’s mood may be determined from this metric. They will think this test assesses cognitive ability, but it measures emotions indirectly.

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What Are Other Types of Research Bias?

Type of Research Bias:

Cognitive Bias Selection Bias Others
Negativity bias, framing effect, halo effect, confirmation bias, primacy bias, optimism bias. Sampling bias, attrition bias, nonresponse bias and undercoverage bias. Recall bias, placebo effect, ceiling effect.


Demand characteristics may reveal a study’s goal to participants. These signals might cause participants to act differently dependent on their perception of the study.

Demand characteristics can discredit research by offering an alternate rationale for the findings.

If you take care in developing your analysis and selecting your data collection methods, you will be able to adjust demand characteristics. This includes deception and implicit measures.

Participants’ expectations that they would be assessed in some manner may contribute to demand characteristics. They get motivated to find ways to “beat” the experiment to improve their performance on the assumed assessment.