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Reveal Unconscious Bias with Single Implicit Association Testing

In today's dynamic marketplace, understanding consumer behavior is paramount to the success of any product. Yet, beneath the surface of conscious decision-making lies a complex web of unconscious biases that subtly shape our perceptions and preferences. Unconscious bias refers to the automatic, ingrained attitudes, associations, beliefs, and/or stereotypes that influence our perceptions, behaviors, and decisions without our awareness. These biases wield considerable influence over consumer reactions, impacting everything from initial impressions to long-term brand loyalty. Recognizing this, innovative companies are increasingly turning to sophisticated tools and methodologies to delve deeper into the subconscious realms of consumer psychology.


Background & Objective


At Sensory Spectrum we offer a comprehensive suite of tools designed to empower market researchers in unraveling the mysteries of consumer behavior. Let’s explore one such tool now – single implicit association testing.


  • Implicit Association Tests measure the strength of the association of with concepts in memory by measuring reaction times.

  • Single Implicit Association Test (SIAT) measures which words/phrases consumers associate with a single brand, category, or concept.


Sensory Spectrum conducted a pilot study to showcase how unconscious biases and their impacts can be revealed through implicit association testing. To begin, the Sensory Spectrum Consumer Understanding and Product Support Services teams evaluated several in-market fragranced body lotions and selected two (2) to move forward in the test: Bath & Body Works Warm Vanilla Sugar and Bath & Body Works Cucumber Melon. These fragrances were selected based on the familiarity American consumers have with Bath & Body Works products as well as the polarizing effects each fragrance could have. 



Sensory Spectrum employees and panelists were asked to participate in the pilot study. N=77 participants across several US locations took part in the single implicit association test. Sample kits with instructions were prepared in the NJ office then sent to North Carolina and Michigan to ensure sample consistency.


The Process


The test was conducted online using a market research software program to build the implicit assessment. The fifteen (15) terms used in each assessment and the overall study design and flow were determined by the Sensory Spectrum Consumer Understanding and Product Support Services teams. The length of the assessment was approximately ten (10) minutes.


Participants, using either their personal or company owned phone or tablet, were asked to scan a QR code to enter the test. Upon entering the test, they were instructed to perform a training module to practice the implicit assessment prior to beginning the test portion. Basic demographic information was collected at this time (i.e., name and location). A training test is shown before the implicit assessment begins.



Word associations were displayed on separate screens as participants were asked if the word ‘fits’ or ‘does not fit’ the image being displayed.


After the training portion, participants progressed through the following series of implicit testing sections:


  • Fragrance Implicit Test

  • Skinfeel Test

  • Concept Implicit Test


Blinded body lotion olfactive assessment


Participants were given two (2) clear plastic bottles marked with different 3-digit codes then instructed to find the body lotion bottle that matched the 3-digit code that appeared on their screen. Once found, participants were instructed to assess the fragrance of the body lotion sample by squeezing the bottle three (3) times while sniffing the fragrance. After assessing the fragrance, they were prompted to move forward to the blinded implicit olfactive assessment. One body lotion/fragrance was evaluated at a time. The olfactive assessment was conducted two (2) times and results were recorded.


Implicit Association Strength for Aroma Results



The strength of the same word associations for aroma was measured for both fragrances, illuminating key differences between the two products.


  • The strength of the attributes: ‘Floral,’ ‘Summer,’ ‘Energized,’ ‘Focused,’ and ‘Joy’ were not as strong in the Warm Vanilla Sugar body lotion when compared to the Cucumber Melon body lotion.

  • The strength of the association of the following attributes were stronger in the Warm Vanilla Sugar body lotion: ‘Worth it for me,’ ‘Nostalgic,’ ‘Comforting,’ and ‘Indulgent.’

  • There were no word associations that reached 90% or higher for either body lotion/fragrance.

  • ‘Inferior,’ ‘cheap,’ ‘focused,’ and ‘heavy’ did not resonate with participants for either fragrance.


Blinded body lotion tactile assessment


Participants were instructed to find the body lotion bottle that matched the 3-digit code that appeared on their screen. Once participants found their sample, they were instructed to dispense a pea sized amount onto one arm and rub in the body lotion, focusing on the entire experience (look, feel and smell) prior to progressing to the implicit assessment. One body lotion/fragrance was evaluated at a time. Participants were asked to switch arms for the second body lotion/fragrance. The olfactive assessment was conducted two (2) times and results were recorded.


Implicit Association Strength for Application Results



The strength of the associations between products/fragrances for product application were found to be similar to the aroma assessment.


  • The strength of the word association for ‘Floral,’ Summer,’ ‘Sweet,’ and ‘Energized’ upon application was stronger for the Cucumber Melon fragrance than the Warm Vanilla Sugar fragrance.

  • The strength of the word association for ‘Serenity,’ ‘Nostalgic,’ ‘Comforting,’ and ‘Indulgent’ was stronger for the Warm Vanilla Sugar fragrance than Cucumber Melon.

  • The remainder of the word associations were similar for both body lotions. There were no word associations that reached 90% or higher for either body lotion/fragrance.


Branded body lotion assessment


During the final testing phase, participants were asked to set aside the samples. Participants were told that an image would appear on the next screen along with words or terms. They were again instructed to choose “fits” or “does not fit” as a response to the term and image shown. Two images of branded body lotions were shown, one at a time. The concept assessment was conducted two (2) times and results were recorded.


Implicit Association Strength for Concept Results




The branded assessment included several very strong word associations (greater than 90%) for each body lotion/fragrance.


  • Cucumber Melon body lotion was very strongly associated with the word ‘Summer’ in the branded phase.

  • Cucumber Melon body lotion was also more strongly associated with the words: ‘Floral,’ Energized,’ and ‘Focused.’

  • Warm Vanilla Sugar body lotion was very strongly associated with the terms ‘Sweet’ and ‘Comforting.’

  • Warm Vanilla Sugar was also more strongly associated with the words: ‘Worth it for Me,’ ‘Heavy,’ ‘‘Nostalgic,’ ‘Indulgent,’ and ‘Overpowering.’

  • ‘Inferior’ and ‘cheap” were not strongly associated with either fragrance in any of the test assessments.


Conclusions


The branded phase elicited the strongest word associations compared to the aroma and product application phases. Cucumber Melon was highly associated with ‘Summer’ throughout all three assessments while Warm Vanilla Sugar was highly associated with ‘Sweet’ throughout all three assessments. Displaying the image of the body lotion bottle along with the fragranced body lotion increased the strength of the word associations. Some word associations were clearly not associated with the fragrance concepts.


Overall, understanding implicit attitudes can inform product development strategies, ensuring that new offerings resonate with consumers on a deeper level. If we understand how consumers truly feel about the brand beyond what they may express explicitly we gain valuable insights into brand loyalty, satisfaction, and potential areas for improvement. Sensory Spectrum will interpret the results and make recommendations based on overall business objectives.


Authors and Contributors: Diana Greenberg; Nicole Butkiewicz; Annlyse Retiveau Krogmann, Ph.D.; Elinor Toronto Doyle; and Katie E. Osdoba, Ph.D.

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