I know it exists and it has a name...

But my google-fu skills are lacking, due to a pretty niche concept that uses a lot of generic keywords.

There is a fallacy / mental model / a tendency for people to portray themselves in a positive light.

I know about "80% of drivers thinking they are better than average" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illusory_superiority but it is not exactly what I'm looking for.


Have you ever taken / ingested / consumed cannabis?

Answer "YES" to this question would admit doing something illegal, with potentially negative consquences, including the fact that the researcher might be an undercover cop. Therefore, even if the genuine answer is "YES", there is a non-zero probability that the recorded answer is "NO"

To account for this tendency INSERT NAME HERE _____________ I would like to suggest an alternative design of the same question that involves a 2nd researcher

"We are aware of the tendency INSERT NAME HERE _____________

"We are working towards legalization efforts..."

"This will be treated in the strictest confidence..."

"We know that asking "YES / NO" questions about drug use can make people..."

"Our goal is to obtain more accurate estimate..."


3rd April 2022 source (behind a paywall)

Orban’s bid for fourth straight term comes down to knife-edge vote

5th April 2022 source (behind a paywall)

Crushing victory gives Viktor Orban scope to tighten grip on Hungary

Same with Trump and other socially unpopular candidates.

More google-fu

"anonymity bias" - loads of interesting research papers, including one specifically about cannabis (link):

enter image description here

Of course the sample size is small but the discrepancy is clearly visible (other research papers confirm it too).

I am aware that anonymity might not be enough to obtain accurate results, that's why the design of the study with the 2nd researcher but I just want to sound a little bit smarter and read more about INSERT NAME HERE _____________ - surely it has a name?

EDIT: if it does not have a name, I'll take the "Robertson Syndrome"

  • $\begingroup$ I think it's clear your first and second approaches would get different answers, but I think it's less clear that one is going to result in "less bias" than the other; for example, people opposed to cannabis legalization may decide not to participate further in your study in the second scenario and may also be people less likely to have used cannabis, so you find a higher percentage of "yes" because some of the "no"s don't participate. I'm also not convinced of your explanation of "wanting to portray themselves in a positive light"; they may fear legal or other consequences. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 3 at 19:59
  • $\begingroup$ A perhaps colloquial but common expression along these grounds is saving face, or for your first blanks, to save face. $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Jan 3 at 20:56
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause I will let data / research / study to decide. For now I just want to learn a little bit more, find the actual term for INSERT NAME HERE _____________ bias / fallacy / phenomenon... "Saving face" sounds broadly related but it doesn't nail it, thank you for the comment :) $\endgroup$ Jan 3 at 21:37
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If you are asking about a bias specific to research, then check out demand characteristics: "A possible cause for demand characteristics is participants' expectations that they will somehow be evaluated, leading them to figure out a way to 'beat' the experiment to attain good scores in the alleged evaluation." $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Jan 4 at 3:01
  • $\begingroup$ Demand characteristics - also related, but not quite there. No typo in "have you ever took", in my native tongue the phrase is "to take drugs" also in English. Only now I'm realising you can also have a "toke" of cannabis. $\endgroup$ Jan 4 at 14:20

2 Answers 2


One particularly fitting term is impression management. From Wikipedia:

Impression management is a conscious or subconscious process in which people attempt to influence the perceptions of other people about a person, object or event by regulating and controlling information in social interaction. [...] Individuals construct an image of themselves to claim personal identity, and present themselves in a manner that is consistent with that image. [...] Impression management can distort the results of empirical research that relies on interviews and surveys, a phenomenon commonly referred to as "social desirability bias".

As an effect, we have social desirability bias. From Wikipedia:

In social science research, social-desirability bias is a type of response bias that is the tendency of survey respondents to answer questions in a manner that will be viewed favorably by others. It can take the form of over-reporting "good behavior" or under-reporting "bad", or undesirable behavior. The tendency poses a serious problem with conducting research with self-reports. This bias interferes with the interpretation of average tendencies as well as individual differences.

A related term is self-monitoring. From Wikipedia:

Self-monitoring [...] describes the extent to which people monitor their self-presentations, expressive behavior, and nonverbal affective displays. [...] Self-monitoring is defined as a personality trait that refers to an ability to regulate behavior to accommodate social situations. [...] Some personality types commonly act spontaneously (low self-monitors) and others are more apt to purposely control and consciously adjust their behavior (high self-monitors).


virtue signalling

the action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one's good character or the moral correctness of one's position on a particular issue.

There is a slight difference - not in public.

The anonymous researcher is "public of 1" but the same mechanism prevails.

fear of prosecution

That applies for North Korea, where supreme leader has 110% approval rating.

  • $\begingroup$ Good answer, but please cite your source! $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Apr 9 at 0:30
  • $\begingroup$ @ArnonWeinberg no sources for 110% approval rating, this was meant to be a joke. Mr Kim's 100% approval from his Mount Paektu constituency reflects the "absolute support" of people in the country, KCNA news agency says. - bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-26483940 - 100% only $\endgroup$ Apr 11 at 19:11
  • $\begingroup$ That's clear. I meant the part in quotes, I assume that's copied from somewhere. $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Apr 11 at 19:14
  • $\begingroup$ I see, the definition directly from Google, they use Oxford Languages $\endgroup$ Apr 11 at 19:30

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