Behavioral Science – Part 3: Conscious Design Yields Unconscious Responses

Behavioral Science

Behavioral Scientist Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize for his groundbreaking work on how people think and make decisions. He describes the mind as working through two “systems”. System 1 is fast, unconscious and automatic, and System 2 is slow, deliberative and conscious. Most of our decisions are made using System 1 thinking. But most market research encourages System 2 thinking. That’s a problem.

We believe it is important to take this into account when you design research. By incorporating Behavioral Science principles you can obtain a more accurate understanding of consumer thinking.

There are varying “levels” to which you can incorporate Behavioral Science into your research design and processes:

• Level 1: Stop doing things we know are unreliable.
• Level 2: Start consciously designing questions to yield more nonconscious responses.
• Level 3: Start researching and incorporating validated behavioral science-influenced techniques.

In this article we look at some Level 2 techniques. For more on Level 1 techniques see my prior article Behavioral Science – Part 2: Sometimes It Is What You Don’t Do That Makes Things Better. To get a basic grounding in Behavioral Science see my article An Intro to Behavioral Science/Nonconscious Measurement.

Level 2: Start consciously designing questions to yield more nonconscious responses

“Level 2” behavioral science is about making slight changes to the way you write survey questions, in order to diminish overthinking among your respondents. While these suggestions are simple, they do encourage the more automatic and rapid System 1 thinking that drives most everyday decision making.

Here are three techniques to consider when designing future research activities:

  1. Switch from “me” to “we”. For example, instead of asking “who are you voting for president?” ask “who do you think will win the presidency?” The former option facilitates self-reflection and over-thinking, while the latter option, although only slightly different, facilitates a projective response which is more likely to be automatic and nonconscious.
  2. Switch from direct to indirect. For example, instead of asking “why do you shop at retailer X?” ask “if you had to convince a friend to shop at retailer x, what would you say to them?” Similar to the technique above, this adjustment also helps facilitate a projective response, which leads to richer verbatims and high-quality data.
  3. Utilize binary scales. My colleague Andrew Grenville covers this at length in his post 3 Reasons You Should Rethink Scale Usage, but to summarize, we’ve proven that binary scales are much faster to answer and minimize mistakes, while still producing results that are consistent with the results of more traditionally used 5, 7 or 10-point scales.

Given the above techniques are free to use, make your respondents more engaged, and yield higher-quality data, is there any excuse to not begin employing these tactics in your next survey draft?

In my next post, I’ll be expanding on “level 3” behavioral science, so stay tuned.

Previous posts in this series:

An Intro to Behavioral Science/Nonconscious Measurement

Behavioral Science – Part 2: Sometimes It Is What You Don’t Do That Makes Things Better