Implicit vs. Explicit Testing: A Beginner’s Guide

  • January 13, 2021

  • Eyes4Research

Market research offers decision-makers a glimpse into consumer behaviors and attitudes toward data-driven strategies. From surveys, polls, focus groups, and even interviews, there are many ways to collect insights to better understand target audiences. When considering testing approaches, knowing the difference between implicit and explicit testing remains imperative to align research initiatives with overall business goals. With this, Eyes4Research has created a guide to help researchers compare and contrast testing methods for optimal research results.  

Implicit Testing 

Implicit testing, otherwise known as System 1, captures the unconscious responses of consumers. This helps researchers unmask the emotional impact and effectiveness of brand campaigns across a variety of mediums. With most of the decision-making process lying within the subconscious, implicit testing helps identify unintentional judgments in a non-research setting for more effective business decisions. 

To capture subconscious perceptions, market researchers have begun using AI and facial recognition technology. These research tools closely analyze microexpressions and eye movements when exposed to brand collateral. The use of emotional analytics helps quantify consumer subconscious behaviors, going beyond the verbal responses of participants. This provides insight into the unconscious decision-making process of consumers and its correlation with campaign materials. Other methods include implicit association testing (IAT), associative priming, and semi-implicit testing. 

Implicit testing has many advantages. For one, this method allows researchers to analyze cognition/attitudes without the need for time-consuming introspection. Because this method takes less time, more people are willing to participate, helping researchers obtain insights from traditionally hard to reach groups. Also, participants are less susceptible to response biases, such as social desirability bias, as respondents do not have time to adapt their behavior. These tests can also be conducted from smart devices, giving studies exceptional reach and making them a cheap and easy option for researchers. Most of these studies take place in organic environments to capture authentic reactions. This eliminates the influence of external stimuli for more reliable results. 

In terms of disadvantages, implicit testing does not replace explicit methods. Though implicit measures provide valuable insight into consumer subconscious behavior, it does not replace explicit methods. Instead, researchers should utilize both implicit and explicit testing to fully understand drivers of consumer behavior. Implicit testing limitations may also result from the time it takes respondents to comprehend materials. When conducting a study, research professionals must find the appropriate amount of time for participants to process material while capturing initial reactions. This may be extremely difficult, as comprehension times differ from person to person. 

Explicit Testing 

Explicit testing, also referred to as System 2, analyzes conscious behaviors, giving respondents time to think through their responses and develop a deliberate and logic-based answer. Explicit testing may take the form of a survey, focus group, or any research method that is propositional in nature. This method analyzes factors of purposeful decision-making, allowing respondents to understand and further explain their behavior. 

Explicit testing provides more in-depth insights on complex research questions than implicit methods allowing participants to identify the origins of their answers and provide details needed for informed decisions. Similar to implicit testing, explicit methods can be conducted in-person or from electronic devices, allowing researchers to stay within their timeframe and budget. Explicit testing allows participants more control and time to analyze their answers, giving researchers reasoning behind an immediate response. 

Explicit testing has several limitations researchers must keep in mind while conducting studies. For one, respondents are susceptible to bias when participating in studies that use explicit methods due to concerns over self-presentation resulting in dishonest responses. These tests also limit the participant’s ability to fully express their feelings, as they do not account for subconscious attitudes. Explicit testing may also be more time-consuming than implicit testing. With more detailed questions, participants may have to take more time to process materials and develop an answer. 

Overall, implicit and explicit testing should be utilized in tandem to provide a full view of the emotions and logic that drive consumer behavior. By understanding the key drivers of consumer behavior, brands can optimize their practices to be more impactful. 

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