Protecting the Science: Why Time Constrained Explicit Evaluations Can't Be Implicit Research

By Aaron Reid
March 6, 2014
Similar to timed judgments of associations, time constrained explicit evaluations also fail to meet the key criteria of an implicit measure. The industry has recently been exposed to some good new time constrained explicit evaluation techniques.
However, as you will see below, these techniques provide enhanced value as refining measures on explicit questions, not as implicit research methods. Given that they do not fit the criteria of implicit measures, it is not accurate to claim that they are capturing automatic, System 1, processing.

How Time Constrained Explicit Evaluations Work

Store Design Influences Brand PerceptionsIn a typical time constrained explicit evaluation study, participants might be asked to judge whether an image or word represents a category, brand or experience. Let’s start with a customer experience example with a cool research design.
Let’s say the client is a major national retailer, interested in how recent store design changes are effecting the customer experience and influencing brand perceptions.
We recruit participants from a national panel who have agreed to participate in mobile research studies and use GPS enabled geo-fencing to identify when they walk into our target retailer’s store. During their shopping trip we ask them a few questions and then as they leave we have them engage in a mobile time constrained judgment task.
In the task, they are asked to indicate whether a word or an image represents how they feel about the retail brand by tapping the screen on their mobile device when the word or image appears. Furthermore, the words and images appear on the screen for less than one second. The data gathered include which images and words are associated with the retail brand. By analyzing the data across new designed stores and older stores, the researcher and client gain insight on the cognitive and emotional impact of store changes.

Valuable Insights, But Not Implicit Research

What a cool study! It is a great research design, it is certainly capturing emotional and cognitive associations with the brand, but is it implicit? Is it truly capturing System 1 processing? In order for a measure to be implicit, it must be indirect, not a deliberate evaluation and uncontrollable. Time constrained explicit evaluations fail on all three criteria; they are direct, deliberate and they are acutely controllable.
To illustrate, let’s go back to the example of revealing racial bias from the protecting the science series of posts. Imagine we were tasked with getting around the can’t say/won’t say problem facing the measurement of racial bias and we decided to use a time constrained explicit evaluation as our research tool.
We design a study where we have participants complete a sentence evaluating their feelings toward groups of people (e.g. black versus white). We present words and images on the screen for less than one second and we have participants tap the screen when they see a word or image that they associate with the group of people.

Missed Implicit Research Criteria

Is this task indirect? No, it is a direct evaluation of whether an image represents the group. Is the task not deliberate? No, it is a deliberate evaluation of the image. Are the participants responses uncontrollable? No. Respondents upon seeing a negative emotion word or image can very easily choose to not tap the screen, if they don’t want to be perceived as associating the word or image with the group of people.
When put into the context of evaluating the original can’t say/won’t say problem of implicit attitudes toward racial groups, these types of timed constrained judgments clearly do not fit the implicit definition. That is, they are not necessarily revealing unique System 1 processing.
Again, this does not mean they are not valuable measures. I love the retail research design described above, and might suggest it to some of our clients, however, I would not suggest that design if the client wanted to truly understand what is happening automatically in the minds of their customers. The retail store design described above could easily incorporate a true implicit research technique by using a mobile implicit research platform and implementing an IAT, evaluative priming, or AMP procedure.
The best implicit research technology platforms enable researchers and insights professionals to assess System 2 processing using enhanced explicit techniques while simultaneously assessing System 1 processing using truly implicit techniques within the same user interface. The beauty of recent advances in implicit research technology, have made in-the-moment measurement of implicit attitudes on mobile devices a reality. The Sentient Prime implicit research platform allows researchers to design enhanced conscious assessment measures and truly implicit measures simultaneously in the same study, using the same UI for for all smart mobile devices.
When choosing a partner for consumer subconscious research, asking critical questions around how the subconscious is being measured should produce answers that provide you with the confidence that your implicit measures are truly implicit.

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Aaron Reid


Founder & CEO, Sentient Decision Science, Inc.

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