The Fastest Way to the Deepest Insights: The Automation of Behavioral Science

By combining sound theory and new measurement tools, market researchers can produce products that are automated, provide deep accurate insight, and have staying power in the industry.

In graduate school I read an article that changed my thinking about how the mind works. It was called “The Unbearable Automaticity of Being.” by Tanya Chartrand and John Bargh. In the article they reveal evidence of how the mind forms associations automatically, and how the automatic activation of associations can lead directly to behavior without conscious control.

Five years later, Strack and Deutsch published “Reflective and Impulsive Determinants of Social Behavior.” A dual process theory of cognitive processing, better known today as System 1 and System 2. Of course, we all know System 1 and System 2 references from Kahneman’s popular book Thinking Fast and Slow, a review of the last 40 years of decision science research, published in 2011. In fact, the theory is so compelling that in 2017 Brain Juicer decided to re-brand as the System 1 agency.

Let’s start with System 1 processing that refers to the automatic rise and activation of associations in the non-conscious mind. Stimuli automatically activate emotional associations in your mind. That is one of the functions of emotion. It is a memory cementing mechanism – and it’s highly adaptive.

Automating a behavioral response allows us to navigate our world more efficiently. Imagine if you had to “think” about what to do when you saw a snake slithering toward your feet. Or if you had to reflectively “decide” whether to comfort a crying baby. We would have decision paralysis.

Automaticity Enables Empathy

We’re going to make the following argument: Automaticity in the human mind gives rise to Sentience. Sentience is the foundation for human empathy. Automaticity enables empathy.

Automaticity isn’t a nice to have – it’s a requirement for higher order cognition. Automaticity in the human mind frees up resources for higher level thinking and gives us the luxury of sentience.

The automation of market research processes frees up our insights resources for higher level thinking. It frees us up to engage in deeper processing of data and deriving meaning. It enables us to have greater empathy for the consumer and for our clients.

Automation of Behavioral Science 

Fortunately, this is already happening in our industry. The global scaling of eye-tracking methods has seen the production of incredible technology. Algorithms for detecting emotional expression in the face have led to globally scaled Facial Coding technology. Implicit research technology has taken implicit association testing out of the lab and into mobile devices. Allowing us to measure human automaticity in the mind anywhere in the world.

A Lasting Impact 

We’re putting forth the argument that cool measures, the automation of individual behavioral science techniques, is not enough. We need to turn these techniques into systematic research approaches that are founded in sound scientific theory. 

When you look at the advanced research approaches over the last 10-20 years that not only broke through but that had staying power, you’ll see that they have sound theory as their basis. This theory is independent of the measures used to test it. For example, TNS Needstate analysis is founded in a fundamental theory of how human connections are made. The measures within it could use updating, but the theory has staying power. FaceTrace from BrainJuicer had a significant impact on shifting attention to the measurement of emotion. Now the measure itself is rather blunt, and certainly subject to conscious control, but the approach is based in sound theory, Paul Ekman’s 7 human universal emotions. That foundation has given that research staying power.

What if we didn’t have to choose between good theory and cool new measures? Could we combine the two? Could we produce products that were automated, provided deep accurate insight, and had staying power in the industry? We argue that, yes, we can.

Let’s Do This Together

Together we can elevate our industry to new heights. To the research companies, let’s partner and bring technology and sound science together. To clients, please keep demanding more from your partners, validated methods, deeper insights and faster delivery. If we can automate behavioral science, we have the power to increase empathy for the human condition.

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Aaron Reid

Aaron Reid

Chief Behavioral Scientist, Sentient Decision Science