Implicit Testing

Appinio Research · 20.10.2022 · 11min read

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95 percent of all purchasing decisions are made subconsciously, according to studies such as the one conducted by Harvard Professor Gerald Zaltman. This means that consumers are often guided by their intuition and gut feelings, especially when it comes to low-involvement products.


For example, people may choose Coca-Cola over other soda brands even if blind taste tests suggest that its taste is no better, or even worse.


These automated, non-consciously controlled behaviors simplify purchasing decisions in an increasingly complex world. They are highly influenced by consumers' subconscious associations with brands, products, or concepts.


To measure these subconscious associations, market researchers use implicit testing methods, which are different from explicit methods like surveys.


In an implicit test, respondents are not given the chance to respond with thought-through answers; instead, the testing methods create time pressure and measure reaction times to elicit quick and intuitive responses.

Testing for implicit bias

Implicit Testing AppinioIn the field of psychology, understanding human behavior relies on two crucial types of perception and decision-making processes.


Nobel Prize winner and economist Daniel Kahneman has outlined these two systems as follows:

  • System 1

It refers to the unconscious, intuitive, and rapid processes that occur in our brain.

When System 1 is in control, our behavior becomes automated, often without us even realizing it. This system draws on our memories, experiences, and rules of thumb, and operates with incredible speed and capacity.


  • System 2

It involves conscious and rational processes that are much slower than those of System 1.

This system is activated when we make decisions for the first time, when decisions have high personal relevance, or when we are in a calm and focused state. System 2 is based on our values and beliefs, and often results in expressed attitudes and explanations of our behavior.

When do we use implicit methods?


Implicit testing methods are typically used to record consumers' subconscious associations and preferences with brands, products, categories, or concepts


Some common questions that can be answered using these methods include:

  • What characteristics and emotions are associated with my brand by consumers?
  • Does my new product design fit with the brand?
  • What associations are evoked by a particular commercial?
  • Which product variants receive positive or negative feedback upon first impression?

The results of implicit tests reveal patterns and preferences that exist in consumers' subconscious minds, which play a significant role in determining their behavior. Therefore, these tests can provide valuable insights into the factors that influence consumer decision-making and inform marketing strategies to better target consumers' preferences.


How do implicit association tests work (with Appinio)?


System 1, which is implicit and operates unconsciously, is particularly active when decisions need to be made quickly, as System 2 (conscious and rational) cannot keep up in such situations.


Therefore, reaction time measurement is a classic approach to implicit procedures, as it captures System 1's quick and intuitive responses.


In other words, implicit testing methods, which rely on measuring reaction times, can capture consumers' immediate, unfiltered responses to brands, products, or concepts, providing valuable insights into their subconscious associations and preferences.


Survey under time pressure

At Appinio, implicit testing methods are designed to test respondents' subconscious associations and preferences under conditions that closely simulate real-life decision-making scenarios.


To achieve this, respondents are asked to provide quick and intuitive responses under time pressure, without the opportunity to consciously think through their answers.


In practice, the implicit testing process involves the following steps:

  1. Respondents are presented with various stimuli (such as a brand logo or a short video).
  2. They are given a short period of time to indicate whether they associate specific characteristics with the stimulus.
  3. The question disappears after a brief interval, and the next one appears immediately.

Results of the Implicit Test

During the evaluation of implicit tests, researchers pay attention not only to the extent to which respondents attribute certain properties to the stimulus but also to how strongly this association is anchored in their subconscious.


This is determined by measuring the reaction time, where a faster response indicates a stronger association and a deeper anchoring in the subconscious.


Along with reaction time, the success rate is also considered, which indicates the proportion of respondents who evaluated the stimuli within the given time. A lower success rate suggests that participants had to think more about the association, indicating weaker implicit association with the stimulus.


To present the results in a simple and intuitive manner, a score between -100% and +100% is calculated, which is obtained by multiplying the difference between positive and negative scores by the success rate. This score provides a clear indication of the strength and direction of the respondents' implicit associations with the stimuli. 


💡If you want to see how an implicit test could look like, sign up for free to our platform and have a look at our sample study.


Pros and Cons of Implicit Association tests


Implicit methods offer a significant advantage over explicit methods as they provide insights that cannot be obtained through explicit questioning.


Implicit tests uncover associations and preferences that may not be captured by an explicit method, or if they are, they may be biased due to respondents' lack of awareness.


As the human brain is not equipped to think rationally in such short periods of time, implicit methods tap into unconscious processes, making it impossible for respondents to deliberately control their responses.


This leads to intuitive and automatic answers, providing the following advantages:

  • The unconscious and thus the "gut feeling" becomes measurable
  • The methodology mimics reality especially with low-involvement products of everyday use where decisions are often made intuitively and spontaneously
  • Social desirability, i.e. the urge to appear as a rational, reasonable person, cannot influence respondents
  • The research method is rather playful and is perceived as varied and fun by many respondents


Implicit methods has a few drawbacks too, such as:

  • Relatively high effort required to create the survey, as the given associations have to be researched extensively beforehand
  • Due to the short time window, only individual terms or images can be tested implicitly. Other stimuli such as slogans or product benefits cannot be tested in such a manner due to their size

Can implicit and explicit methods be combined?


But decisions are often made using a combination of conscious and unconscious processes. Therefore, it is recommended to use both explicit and implicit methods in market research to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of consumer behavior.

Explicit methods can provide insights into purchase probability, comprehension, and factors that influence behavior, especially for new product designs or concepts.


Implicit methods, on the other hand, can reveal subconscious associations and preferences that consumers may not be aware of themselves.


By combining both methods, market researchers can obtain a more meaningful and accurate understanding of consumer behavior, allowing them to make more informed decisions.

Conclusion for Implicit Testing

Implicit tests provide a unique insight into consumers' subconscious perceptions, making their instinctive responses measurable.


By placing respondents under time pressure, they are compelled to answer quickly and intuitively, bypassing conscious thought.


This creates a foundation for revealing implicit associations and preferences about brands, concepts, or designs that are not captured by traditional explicit tests.


Therefore, implicit testing is a valuable addition to market research, enabling a more comprehensive understanding of consumer behavior.

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