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Putting Memory Under the Microscope


By David Paull

At the upcoming IIeX North America conference, I’ll be moderating a panel on the topic: How Flawed Recall and Memory Bias Pollute Market Research and What Can Be Done About It. The panel is part of a broader program centered on exposing the challenges around recall- and memory-bias in market research. The idea for the program came out of the multitude of conversations with clients and colleagues both around the challenges they’ve encountered with recall-based research approaches and the growing demands and tightening budgets market researchers are facing.

The epiphany came when I tried to reconcile these demands with the continued dependence on recall-based methods and approaches that produce questionable or unusable results. How exactly do you deliver, “More for less… “ when you’re basing outcomes and conclusions on flawed methods that depend on respondents answering questions about what they think they thought?

With this program, I’ve had the opportunity to moderate and participate in discussions with a panel of experts from both the market research and academic sides of the aisle to flesh-out their encounters with flawed recall and memory bias in their research. The discussions have brought to light many things we, in the market research community, already knew about recall-based research but have failed to admit or do much about—such as evidence that memory is malleable and can be biased by all sorts of factors including time, interviewer bias, other respondents, etc. Our discussions have also uncovered some new areas worthy of further exploration. Of particular interest is what market research can learn from academic studies into memory manipulation. Because, unlike in market research, the academic work being done by our expert Dr. Elizabeth Loftus at the University of California-Irvine, actively introduces factors to try to manipulate and impact memory, and she knows when asking her study participants questions, what the right answers should be.

Understanding what factors impact memory the most will help us design methods and approaches to better control for and, when appropriate, mitigate it. We look to uncover those specific factors and what we, in the market research community, can and should do to address them as our discussion continues at IIeX and beyond. We hope you’ll join us.


This series of articles is part of a broader program, developed and sponsored by Dialsmith, centered on exposing the challenges around recall- and memory-bias in market research. The program consists of a series of discussions with experts from the market research and academic communities and features a live panel session at IIeX North America and a webinar later this year.

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2 responses to “Putting Memory Under the Microscope

  1. Great article David. I presented a similarly-themed paper at the recent SAMRA conference in Pretoria, South Africa. It was pleasing to be able to introduce the #mrx audience to the flaws in memory and recall-based research (and to offer suggestions to alleviate this reliance on memory). I similarly included numerous references to Dr Elizabeth Loftus’ work on this topic. Best of luck in Atlanta!

  2. Thanks, Mike. That’s really interesting and Dr. Loftus’ work is a fascinating companion to our topic. I’d love to see either a recording of your paper, or review the deck if that’s possible. Our IIeX session is being video recorded, so we’ll be able to share that if you can’t make it. We’ll also ping you for the next phase of this program to see if you’d like to participate. You can reach me at david[at]dialsmith[dot]com.

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David Paull

Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Dialsmith LLC