What is Implicit Research?

By Insight Platforms

  • article
  • Behavioural Economics
  • Behavioural Science
  • Behavioural Research
  • IRT (Implicit Response Testing)
  • System 1 Research

In market research, understanding the deep-seated attitudes and preferences of consumers is crucial for the success of any product or service. This brings us to the topic of implicit research, a psychological method that probes the unconscious attitudes of consumers, providing insights far beyond what traditional surveys can reveal.

We’ve talked about behavioral science elsewhere – it has given us concepts, theories, and frameworks that help make sense of the complexities of human behavior and decision-making. It gives power to predict and even manipulate consumer behavior and choices. In a nutshell, they help brands better understand the true drivers of consumer decisions.

Implicit research refers to a collection of behavioural techniques designed to uncover the unconscious biases and attitudes that influence consumer behavior. Unlike explicit research methods where responses are deliberated and conscious, implicit research taps into the automatic, uncontrolled reactions of respondents. This type of research gauges true feelings and impressions that can escape “traditional” questioning techniques.

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Introduction to System 1 and System 2

To better understand the importance of implicit research, it is crucial to dive into the cognitive theory behind System 1 and System 2 thinking, a concept popularized by psychologist Daniel Kahneman. System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control. For example, when you pull your hand back from a hot stove, it’s System 1 thinking that reacts immediately without deliberation.

On the other hand, System 2 involves attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. For instance, when planning a budget or analyzing market trends, System 2 takes over with its logical, conscious processing.

Implicit research primarily deals with System 1, which can reveal the initial, instinctual reactions that might not be captured through more deliberate, System 2-focused research methods.

Implicit Association Tests (IAT)

One popular method in implicit research is the Implicit Association Test (IAT). IATs measure the strength of associations between concepts and evaluations or stereotypes, helping researchers decipher unconscious biases. For instance, in the realm of consumer goods, an IAT might explore a person’s association between brand names and attributes like trustworthiness or quality. Through measuring response times, IATs assess how quickly individuals can associate different brand logos (like Apple or Nike) with positive or negative words.

Here’s an example of an IAT question, courtesy of the quantilope platform:

Implicit Association Test example

Implicit Response Tests (IRT)

Another innovative tool in implicit research is the Implicit Response Test (IRT). This method often uses people’s reaction times to specific stimuli to measure instinctual responses. For example, an IRT might involve showing participants rapid-fire images of products in varying colors while monitoring their immediate, involuntary reactions, such as changes in facial expressions or eye movements. These reactions can indicate a deeper, unspoken preference for one color over another, insights that are invaluable for product developers and marketers designing new product lines.


Implicit research is a powerful tool in the armory of modern market research, crucial for tapping into the unconscious, spontaneous preferences and attitudes of consumers. Methodologies like IAT and IRT help researchers gather insights that not only reveal what consumers think but how they instinctively feel contributing to a more comprehensive understanding of their behaviors and decision-making processes.

In a world where consumer preferences can make or break a product, implicit research provides the depth of understanding necessary to craft strategies that resonate on a deeper, more instinctual level.


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