Neuromarketing Techniques: Implicit Reaction Tests

Measurement techniques in neuromarketing usually resort to more or less bulky devices that record changes in psychophysiological activity. However, there are a number of techniques that break with this scheme: the so-called Implicit Reaction Tests (IRT).

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Measurement techniques in neuromarketing usually resort to more or less bulky devices that record changes in psychophysiological activity. However, there are a number of techniques that break with this scheme: the so-called Implicit Reaction Tests (IRT).

IRT tests are a method used to capture the implicit attitudes of people towards brands, commercial campaigns or product design. The technique has a background of 40 years and is used by psychologists in academic research and markets. Unlike other neuromarketing techniques, they do not require to place the subject any type of device to record information about their emotions. Your password? Know what you feel and think based on the reaction time to stimuli.

What exactly is an implicit attitude?

To be able to understand the IRT, let’s start by understanding its object of measurement: the implicit attitudes.

Attitudes are manifestations of our preferences and rejections. Through them, we take the decisions that shape our life and society, whether it is voting for a political party, prioritizing family over work or going to live in the outskirts.

One can think that he is clear about his attitudes. The preference for vegetarian food, the rejection of racism, the love of football. However, the territory of attitudes extends beyond the conscious universe. In addition to family attitudes, explicit calls, there are others built involuntarily and that are unknown to us: implicit attitudes.

Imagine that you are going to visit a flat for rent with your partner. The house is perfect for you, everything you are looking for at a reasonable price. However, it does not convince you and you even feel uncomfortable without knowing why. It is very likely that the property remembers some place that you do not keep a good memory. The cause of the discomfort is an unconscious attitude built involuntarily that manifests itself in your way of feeling and acting.

Interestingly, explicit and implicit attitudes can be contradicted. You can be an honest supporter of equality and be nervous to be with homosexuals or immigrants. Factors forged through experience in a particular social environment can have a subtle but powerful influence.

How is an implicit attitude detected?

In an IRT test the key to detect an implicit attitude and its nature is in the reaction time to the stimulus.

Years of research have shown that, when making decisions, conscious responses (explicit attitudes) and unconscious responses (implicit attitudes) are executed through two different routes. These routes are distinguished based on the speed of processing.

  1. Fast track: linked to automated, visceral and non-conscious responses typical of implicit attitudes. Its reaction time is 200-700 ms.
  2. Slow way: linked to the articulated and conscious thought proper to explicit attitudes. The response time exceeds 700 ms.

We have already delimited the territory of non-conscious thought. Now the key to an IRT test is knowing the nature of that response to a product, brand or advertisement.

What kind of emotions or memories do you evoke? Are certain biases or preferences manifested in the subject’s responses?

We must understand that the brain has a complex network of associations built on our perceptions and experiences. It is a gigantic semantic network composed of multiple concepts-nodes-that intertwine with each other. The stronger these associations are, the quicker the response will be to the evocative stimulus. Let’s take an example with the Coca Cola brand. It is easy to think that it is associated with words like soda or US or attributes such as happiness, fun or freshness.

To prove it, imagine an implicit test designed to measure the strength of the association of concepts with Coca Cola and Pepsi. By showing the Coca Cola logo to the subject, the semantic network of related concepts is activated in his brain. If “happiness” is found within that network, the participant will react more quickly when they see the term. If the association with “happiness” is stronger in the case of Coca Cola than in that of Pepsi, between both brands a difference in the reaction time will be appreciated: the associative response with Coca Cola will be faster than with its eternal rival.

On the other hand, if you want to do a test yourself, you can participate in one of the studies of Project Implicit, an initiative organized by several North American universities.

Typology and advantages

There are several types of IRT tests. Depending on the research object, a variant will be chosen and the design will be adapted to the needs of the study.

  • Implicit Association Test (AIT)
  • Extrinsic Affective Simon Task (EAST)
  • Evaluative Priming Task
  • Semantic Priming Task
  • Go / No-Go Association Task (GNAT)
  • Affect Misattribution Procedure (AMP)

The IRT tests have several advantages:

  • They are scalable
  • They can be done online
  • They are cheaper than other neuromarketing techniques.
  • They are more comfortable for the participants.

Implicit Reaction tests are a good alternative in neuromarketing research. Giants of Market Research such as Ipsos and Milward Brown, already employ them in their market studies.

However, the IRTs face a tough competition. With the development of wearable devices, many of the traditionally expensive neuro and biometric techniques are becoming increasingly economical.

What do you think of the IRT? Have you participated in any study of this kind?