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A comparison of explicit vs. implicit measuring

How do the results of explicit and implicit measurement procedures differ?

Mostly, explicit measurement methods are used in market research, for example to measure opinion and attitude towards a product or brand. However, considered, conscious answers about one’s own attitude are often distorted by social desirability and prevailing social norms. Implicit measurement methods minimise these effects by requiring a respondent to give his or her evaluation spontaneously, leaving him or her no time to consider whether his or her statement is socially conforming or not.

The aim of the present study is to examine whether the results of explicit and implicit measurement procedures differ. The topic of the study is the ideal of beauty today. This topic lends itself very well to such a comparison of methods, since social norms, current trends and the media have a great influence in this area. Each of us has a certain preferred ideal, we do not think about it, it forms unconsciously, but it is also subject to change. Depending on this ideal of beauty, we find a person beautiful and likeable and also make certain demands on ourselves.

For a long time, the beauty ideal of a slim woman has prevailed in public, keyword “Size Zero”, which has driven many women to anorexia. Nowadays, we can observe how the media and advertising agencies are steering away from this ideal of beauty towards a “normal” image of women. We are consciously aware of this trend, it is slowly becoming the social norm. But how do social norms influence our firmly anchored subconscious ideas about the perfect female figure? Do we also emotionally find a fuller woman more beautiful than a slimmer one? It is precisely with questions like these that the method of implicit measurement yields valid results.

Method - Online survey

A total of 300 people from German-speaking Switzerland were interviewed in an online survey. In order to analyse the differences between explicit and implicit measurement, two samples identical in terms of age and gender, each with n = 150 respondents, were surveyed via the intervista online-panel. One group of participants was given the questions to explicitly assess two images of women (figure “Explicit measurement”). The other group had to press either the Q key or the P key very quickly to assign the adjective shown in each case to one of the two women (figure “Implicit measurement”). The arrangement of the pictures was randomised.

Explicit measuring

In market research, explicit measurement methods are the most common way of dealing with various questions. These capture the conscious opinions and attitudes of consumers.

Implicit measuring

For example, the image of a brand or a company is deeply anchored in the subconscious and cannot be called up consciously in its entirety. However, such unconscious associations can be determined well by means of implicit measurement methods.

The key findings

There are clear differences between the two measurement methods. In the explicit measurement method, the slim woman is rated as less charming, healthy and intelligent. Although the majority of respondents state that this is more seductive and beautiful than the more voluptuous woman, over 40% of respondents state that they see these qualities more in the “plumper” woman. Accordingly, it can be argued that the ideal of beauty is undergoing a change nowadays. Very slim women are no longer seen as more beautiful and more exemplary than more voluptuous women.

In the implicit method, on the other hand, the results tend to be in favour of the slender woman. Unconsciously, they are seen as healthier by almost half of the respondents. The distribution of the percentages for the attributes “beautiful” and “exemplary” is particularly striking. Here, the slim woman is clearly rated more beautiful and more exemplary. In the implicit measurement, the values thus indicate that the beauty ideal of a very slim woman still dominates in people’s minds.

Compared to the implicit measurement, the results of the explicit method show the change of the beauty ideal away from thin to rather voluptuous women.
The results of the implicit method, however, speak a clear language: subconsciously, the beauty ideal of a very slim woman continues to exist. This is spontaneously perceived as more beautiful, more exemplary and more seductive.

What do we conclude from this?

The study shows that the results of image and attitude measurements can be quite different, depending on the method of measurement. In the explicit survey, respondents have, among other things, the time to consider whether their opinion is socially compliant, what experiences they have had, what is being reported in the media, etc. The respondents also have the time to consider whether their opinion is socially compliant. These decisions and considerations also take place in fractions of seconds, but they still take more time than respondents have to react in the implicit measurement. In the implicit procedure, respondents have to react very quickly, so the evaluation is derived directly from unconscious attitudes.

The use of implicit measurement methods in market research is, among other things, very suitable for brand and image measurements. This is because the brand image is also formed rather unconsciously, due to emotional-image and unconscious aspects of the respective brand over a long period of time. Particularly “strong” brands often work with associations and non-verbal image communication, the effect of which can also be evaluated using implicit measurement methods.

Michael Schrackmann intervista
Michael Schrackmann
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