Open Access

Lowering Social Desirability Bias: Doing Jokes-Based Interviews


Jokes-based interviews can help to reduce social desirability bias of responses on sensitive topics, such as unethical business behaviour or other norm transgressions. The jokes-based interview method is relevant for academic researchers, as well as for practitioner researchers such as consultants, or journalists. The method uses public jokes as invitation to reflect on work experiences related to the jokes, such as pressuring leadership, dirty work, or work-life conflict that tend to be normalised. Illustrated for a critical leadership cartoon, the interview method triggers junior consultants’ memories of experiences with pressuring managers, and managers’ memories of how their juniors deal with overly high leadership demands. The method creates rapport, as the business jokes not only introduce the topic, but also serve as an icebreaker. When applying the method, joke selection is key, as some jokes introduce the topic better than others. Cartoons are especially good at inviting an open conversation on norm transgressions relating to ethics, aesthetics, or social norms. Interviewees also need sufficient room to freely interpret, associate, and elaborate. Next, follow-up questioning is important, and preparing a topic list may help to do so. Some limitations to this method are that jokes can become leading, and that interviewees do not give authentic answers. Therefore, it is important to use public jokes and to keep distance as a researcher: do not make these jokes yourself. Also consider that business jokes are critical, and that jokes-based interviews initially do not invite reflection on the positive side of business life. However, in the follow up conversations this may very well happen.