Q&A with Dr. Ali Goode, Partner at house51 and expert in behavioral economics and the psychology of learning and memory.
Here’s the second part of our conversation with Dr. Ali Goode. And check out Part 1 if you missed it.
Q: Two concepts that seem to speak to the challenges of recall are Interference Theory (forgetting occurs because memories interfere with, and disrupt, one another) and Misinformation Effect (receiving post-event information interferes with one’s ability to accurately recall the original event). Interested in your thoughts on these concepts and how they relate to your theory about Episodic Memory.
Dr. Goode: One common misconception about memory is that it’s like a video or tape recorder that stores the experience ‘as it happened’ for it to be replayed, at will, at some point in the future. In reality, we represent the world in a series of schema (i.e., mental representations) that broadly correspond to the world we live in. When we experience something, say going to a new pub, we store certain aspects of that specific experience, but that also extends or adapts our schematic representation of what a pub is. If we are asked later about our experience of that pub then what we report will represent our visit, but also the generalized representation of ‘pubs.’ In terms of episodic memory, the salient things about the visit are most likely to be part of our episodic memory (e.g., I ordered a pint and the barman drop it on his foot, or seeing a flash car in the car park). Events that are out of the ordinary. However, more mundane, ‘everyday’ things that may not have been there will seep into our description. So, we might think that there had been a fruit (slot) machine there or a TV on the wall; things pubs often have whether they were actually there or not. This is often called, “false memory.” Studies have shown that priming people with words like “Bed,” “Tired, “Pillow,” “Night,” “Duve’,” can lead to people believing they were shown the word, “Sleep,” even if they weren’t.
In terms of market research, it is completely valid to use episodic memory, but we do have to be aware of its frailties and not think of it like a video record of past events. We need to be aware that things can adapt those memories through interferences such as with Interference Theory and Misinformation Effect, and understand what is said in that context. Also, be aware that getting people to overthink a problem often can decrease the accuracy of the response.
“In terms of market research, it is completely valid to use episodic memory, but we do have to be aware of its frailties and not think of it like a video record of past events.”
Q: In qualitative research, we often find that groupthink, or herd mentality, (the verbal expression of opinions by some members of the group that influence the opinions of others) either consciously or unconsciously influence how some research participants express their recall of a prior event. At the same time, we know that decision-making is a combination of one’s own opinion and the impact of social pressures. How do you feel that in-the-moment data collection techniques combat the negative side of groupthink while still allowing researchers to understand the valid impact of the crowd?
Dr. Goode: One big issue with groups is that they do mask some responses due to social conformity. In most situations, people tend to avoid sticking out from the crowd or refrain from contributing if they have a minority opinion in the group. This is why people tend to clam up in groups if the conversation is not going their way, or monitor and report back what they think is within the bounds of social acceptability for that group.
One technique I’ve used was to start my group with asking people to introduce the topic and then immediately write down, individually, what they thought without any conferring. This way, you anchor their views to one you could be reasonably confident had not been overly influenced by group interaction. This applies to in-the-moment data collection also. As long as people know their views are not being immediately broadcast to the group, they can report in anonymity, reducing the effects the group may have on them.
Another technique that might sound ridiculous but has sound psychological basis, is to run a group in total darkness. A number of studies have shown that having a sense that you are unidentifiable can lead to more disinhibited behavior, or greater likelihood to de-conform from a group. This effect is called “de-individuation” but it is a double-edged sword in psychological terms when it comes to behavior. On the darker side, it was noted in New York back in the 1920’s that people would often shout, “Jump!” to ledge walkers when in a crowd, but would rarely, if ever, if they were the only one witnessing it. It is also the reason why internet ‘trolls’ can behave outrageously on Twitter, as they often do so from accounts that hide their true identities. On the positive side, it is also why night clubs are dimly lit, so you can feel safe in the knowledge no one will know who you are when you let loose to your favorite tune on the dance floor, and why costume parties are always the most fun.
Big thanks to Dr. Goode for his insights and his time. If you have any follow up questions for Dr. Goode or would like to add to the discussion, please comment below.