Implicit Market Research

Implicit reaction time tests in market research work by flashing words and images on the screen  and asking respondents to react to specific words as quickly as possible. By measuring their reaction times we can get an understanding of their inner feelings, attitudes, and personal traits.

The most commonly researched implicit test is the Implicit Association Test or IAT (originally studied by Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998), which is based on quickly identifying items in two categories (e.g., one category might be the names of two competitor brands). By mixing up the categories over a series of blocks, respondents who have a strong attitude to one of the items or brands will be induced into making speeded responses on some trials and slowed responses on other trials. A statistical comparison between the reaction times in each block can yield which brand the respondent prefers.

Affective Priming

Affective priming (originally studied by Fazio, Jackson, Dunton, & Williams, 1995) is similar to the IAT in that it is based on making categorical judgements, though it differs in very important ways. The original affective priming task is to detect words as either one evaluative category (e.g., Happy) or another (e.g., Sad) as in the IAT by pressing a corresponding button or key on the keyboard. However, in this method, these words are preceded very briefly by ‘primes’. These primes are either congruent with the target word (the prime is Joy when the target is Happy, or the prime is Gloomy when the target is Sad) or incongruent (the prime is Gloomy when the target is Happy, or the prime is Joy when the target is Sad). Congruent trials can be performed quicker and with fewer errors than they can be in incongruent trials.

In a branded version of affective priming, the targets might be two brands, such as Pepsi and Tango. Primes would be 20 to 40 attributes that one wishes to test against the two brands (such as Quality, Trusted, Refreshing, and so on). The logic is the same – if Pepsi is perceived as refreshing and Tango is less so in the eyes of a respondent, then Pepsi will be detected quicker than Tango when either are preceded by the attribute Refreshing. This would occur when Refreshing and Pepsi are congruent, and when Refreshing and Tango are incongruent or less congruent. Note that respondents do not make any evaluative judgements, all they are required to do is to detect the names of brands by pressing a key. The strength of association between an attribute and one of the brands is detected (or implied) by differences in reaction time to detect each brand when they are both preceded by the same attribute.

Split Second’s implicit technology is mostly based on affective priming, though we do have some based on the IAT. We have extended the scope of the test from its early days in research to one of the most powerful techniques for measuring consumer feelings and attitudes.

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