19
Feb

Implicit Measurement in Consumer Research

By James Leiman, Ph.D.
Senior Vice President

 

Implicit measurement.

How does it contrast with more traditional forms of measurement in marketing research?

Can implicit measurement provide novel insights into consumers’ attitudes and behaviors?

Many market researchers are looking for answers to these questions.

Current interest in implicit measurement is motivated, in part, by the following beliefs about consumers:

  • People are not able to always articulate the reasons they do what they do.
  • There is a difference between what people say and what they believe.

What is the basis for these beliefs?

The answer can be found in recent developments in the field of cognitive neuroscience. First, much of our thinking and decision making occurs at an unconscious level. Second, emotion plays an important role in cognition.

If both of these are true, it is incumbent on us to examine research protocols that access this implicit level of response.

So, what exactly is ‘implicit measurement’?

It is any measurement that does not include consumers’ direct reports obtained through surveys, focus groups, and in-depth interviews.  Implicit measurement includes the use of tools and techniques that presumably measure consumers’ feelings, thoughts and attitudes occurring below the level of conscious awareness.

Biometric measures from the study of human physiology are one group of such tools.  These include measures of facial expression, eye movements, EEG (brain waves), ECG/EKG (heart rate), EMG (musculature response), and GSR (electro-dermal activity).  Except for measures of facial expression, biometric measures are essentially limited to measuring degrees of activation and orienting responses.

Semantic priming techniques are another group of such tools.  These techniques, largely developed by cognitive and social psychologists, have been used to measure such things as the structure of memory, online language processing, and ethnic and social biases.

In the marketing research field, both biometrics and semantic priming are now being used.  Semantic priming studies generally consist of presenting observers with one stimulus – the ‘prime’ – followed quickly by another stimulus – the ‘target.’  Observers are then required to make some type of speeded response.  The speed of the response is the dependent variable in these studies.  The experimental manipulation is the relationship between the prime and the target.

This technique taps into what has recently come to be known as System 1 thinking.

Used extensively by psychologists to study the internal structure of concepts, one can see why market researchers have used semantic priming to explore a topic near and dear to our hearts – brands.

  • What associations do consumers automatically have to different brands?
  • What associations occur without conscious reflection?
  • How do associations differ across brands?

At Morpace, we recently completed a pilot test of implicit associations consumers have to automotive design elements using semantic priming.  These were, in turn, compared with their explicit associations.  This study confirmed that System 1 responses provide a somewhat different perspective compared to traditional System 2 questioning approaches.

To learn more about this study and obtain additional background information about implicit measurement, click below to obtain a white paper on this topic.

 

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