Understanding and Measuring the Role of Emotions in Consumer Behavior

By David Forbes, Ph.D.
In results from both business and academic research, it’s
become increasingly evident that emotions control as much or more of our
behavior than rational thinking’ And while we might use rational thoughts
(formed in the higher brain) to justify our decisions, it’s often the feelings
(from our primitive, or limbic brains) that run the show.
As these findings have begun to impact the strategies of market research, the need to uncover and understand consumer emotions in
particular parts of the lifestyle, and emotions toward particular types of
products, has grown accordingly. But developing techniques for emotional
research is a real challenge ‘ getting people to talk is often difficult. They
may not want to talk about feelings, on principle (think John Wayne), or they
may have a hard time articulating a feeling. They may be perfectly able to identify
the emotion, but not want to admit to it, even to themselves.
To get ‘under the radar’ of consumer resistance to talk
about emotions, we’ve applied some of the findings in neuroscience about image
processing to create a new tool. We created this tool ‘ which we call
MindSight?? ‘ using images, not words, and timing the exercise so consumers must
respond within what we call ‘the emotional discovery window’ that lies between
the time it takes for an emotional response to an image to begin to form
(roughly 200 milliseconds) and the time it takes for rational reflection and
processing to begin ‘ which leads to editing and distortion of those emotional
responses (one full second).

Using this tool, we have uncovered some very interesting
findings. We recently did some work for a birdseed company, looking at the
emotional motivations for using lots of birdseed. What we found was a mix of
very expected emotional facts alongside an extremely unexpected but interesting
emotional ‘aha.’
As expected, plenty of bird seed users are
through-and-through bird lovers, motivated by a desire to feel a sense of
nurturance by taking good care of their feathered friends. But we also
uncovered an unexpected (and equally large) segment, motivated by a sense of
mastery. For them, feeding the birds is aesthetic, part of taking care of their
homes. They wanted attractive birdseed that would draw impressive birds.
Cardinals, orioles and finches made a decorative statement about them, just
like the color of their home or the style of their landscaping.
In another case, we looked at the emotional reactions that
women wanted to create in their social lives. In this work we found two
distinct themes in women’s desires: one focused around being perceived as
emotionally giving ‘ relationship building and caretaking. The other focused
around being emotionally assertive and powerful ‘ communicated by a sense of
mastery and achievement. Our big ‘aha’ in this case was that the very same
women often wanted to send both of these messages. We learned a bit, I
think, about the complexity of emotions facing the challenges of modern-day
women.

The work of understanding the complexity of the emotional
machinery the drives our behavior is just getting started. We are looking
forward to using MindSight?? to decode emotional motivation across the full
richness of consumer lifestyles.

About the Author: David Forbes holds a
Ph.D. in clinical and cognitive psychology from Clark University, and was a
member of the faculties of Harvard Medical School Department of Psychiatry and
the Harvard Laboratory of Human Development before beginning his career as a
business consultant. He founded Forbes Consulting over 20 years ago as
a strategic market research consultancy dedicated to creating business
advantage through psychological consumer insights. He has since built Forbes into a major resource for scores of major corporations in the CPG,
Financial Services, and Pharmaceuticals industries, domestically and
internationally. 
David is the creator of the MindSight?? emotional assessment
technologies, a suite of applied neuropsychological methods for understanding
consumer emotion and motivation, without the distortions of conscious editing
and self presentation.