Generally in market research, explicit measurement processes are applied in order to assess opinions and attitudes to a product or a brand, for example. However, considered, deliberate responses regarding one’s own attitude are often distorted by social desirability and reigning social norms.
Implicit measurement processes minimise these effects because a respondent must give his assessment spontaneously, so there is no time for him or her to consider whether the response conforms to social norms or not.

The aim of the current study is to see whether the results of explicit and implicit measurement processes differ. The theme of the study is “the current beauty ideal”. This subject is well suited to such a comparison of methods, since social norms, current trends and media have a huge amount of influence in this area. All of us have a specific preferred ideal, but this is something that is not considered; it forms without our realising it, but is also undergoing a transformation. It is based on this beauty ideal that we find a person beautiful and appealing, and also place certain demands upon ourselves.

For a long time, the public has embraced the beauty ideal of a slim woman (keyword “size zero”), which has driven many women to anorexia. It is now possible to see how media and advertising agencies are moving away from this beauty ideal to a “normal” image of women. We are consciously perceiving this trend, and it is gradually becoming a social norm. But how do social norms influence our firmly anchored, subconscious impressions of the perfect female figure? Do we now instinctively find a curvier woman more beautiful than a slimmer one? It is precisely with issues like this that the methods of implicit measurement processes produce valid results.

Method – Online Survey

In an online survey a total of 300 people from German-speaking Switzerland were questioned. In order to analyse the differences between explicit and implicit measurement processes, two sample groups were set up, both identical in terms of age and gender and each containing 150 respondents from the intervista Online Access Panel.
One group of participants was given the questions for the explicit assessment of two different images of women (left-hand illustration). The other group had to press the Q or the P button very quickly in order to allocate each of the adjectives shown to one of the women (right-hand illustration; the arrangement of the images – right or left – was randomised).

Zoom: In market research, explicit measurement processes are particularly widespread when dealing with various different issues. These cover consumers’ conscious opinions and attitudes.
Zoom: The image of a brand or company, for example, is deeply ingrained in the subconscious and is difficult to bring to light fully and deliberately. Such subconscious associations can be identified successfully by means of implicit measurement processes, however.

The Key Results …

Clear differences are revealed between the two measurement processes. In the explicit measurement process, the slim woman is considered less charming, healthy and intelligent. Although the majority of respondents stated that this woman was more seductive and beautiful than the rather curvy woman, over 40% of respondents assigned these qualities to the “plumper” woman. According to this, one can argue that the current beauty ideal is changing. Very slim women are no longer considered more beautiful and more worthy of emulation than curvier women.

With implicit processes, however, the results were more in favour of the slim woman. Subconsciously, she was rated as healthier by nearly half of the respondents. What is particularly striking is the distribution of the percentage values when it comes to the attributes of “beautiful” and “a role model”. Here the slimmer woman was clearly rated as more beautiful and more worthy of emulation. With the implicit measurement, the values therefore point towards the beauty ideal of a very slim woman remaining dominant in people’s minds. 

Zoom: In comparison to implicit measurement, the results of the explicit methods reveal the change in the beauty ideal away from thin towards curvier women.

In comparison to implicit measurement, the results of the explicit methods reveal the change in the beauty ideal away from thin towards curvier women. The results of the implicit methods, however, speak for themselves: subconsciously, the beauty ideal of a very slim woman endures. This woman is spontaneously perceived as more beautiful, more seductive and more worthy of emulation.

What can we conclude from this?

The study shows that with image and attitude measurements, the results can turn out very differently depending on the method of measurement. When the enquiry is explicit, respondents have the time, amongst other things, to consider whether their opinion is socially compliant, what experiences they have had, what is reported in the media, etc. These decisions and considerations also take place within fractions of a second, but they still need more time than respondents have to react in the implicit measurement. With the implicit process, the respondents must react very quickly so that the assessment is drawn directly from their subconscious attitudes.

The use of implicit measurement processes in market research is particularly useful for brand and image measurements. This is because a brand image is formed somewhat subconsciously based on emotionally vivid and subconscious aspects of the relevant brand over a long period of time. Particularly “strong” brands frequently work with associations and non-verbal image communication, the effect of which can likewise be evaluated by means of implicit measurement processes.