Let their fingers do the talking? Using the Implicit Association Test in market research

Aiden P. Gregg

University of Southampton

James Klymowsky, Dominic Owens and Alex Perryman

Seven Stones

Introduction

The most common way to tap the thoughts and feelings of participants in market research is to ask them questions (Bradburn et al. 2004). The ubiquity of self-report ‘techniques’ – including surveys and interview – confirms the general consensus: that what people say about themselves is revealing.

Yet not always: self-reports can sometimes yield biased or false data. For one thing, the manner in which researchers ask a question has long been known to shape the nature of the answer respondents provide (Schuman & Presser 1996). In addition, three major biases can compromise the validity of self-reports. First, respondents may give socially desirable answers to sensitive questions (Steenkamp et al. 2010; Tourangeau & Ting 2007). For example, enquiries about ‘green’ or other cause-related topics can elicit answers in keeping with what respondents believe researchers want to hear (Nancarrow et al. 2001). Second, respondents may deceive themselves into believing they hold appropriate attitudes even when they do not actually hold them (Greenwald 1980). For example, a respondent may wish to flatter themselves into believing (Sedikides & Gregg 2008) that they are ‘greener’ than their consumer behaviour would indicate. Finally, respondents may simply lack insight into what their real attitudes are (Wilson 2002). For example, respondents may lack any considered opinion on ‘green’ issues, and instead make up something on the spot (Converse 1970). In all three cases, respondents’ explicit attitudes – those they overtly state or consciously believe – do not fully correspond with their implicit attitudes – their concealed or unconscious counterparts.