Research reveals what you are really thinking

Researchers at London Metropolitan University have developed an innovative method for revealing people’s true attitudes and beliefs.

Date: 27/03/2012

Researchers at London Metropolitan University have developed an innovative method for revealing people’s true attitudes and beliefs. 

The technique, called Neural Net Analysis, uses people’s instant, impulsive responses to a computer-based exercise to show what they are really thinking. It has been developed by London Met psychology staff.  

Traditional tools, such as questionnaires, fail to establish people’s true attitudes because of the time they have to consider the questions. 

Dr Nigel Marlow (pictured), Principal Lecturer in Business and Consumer Psychology at London Met, is leading the project. He said: “This research is about tapping in to implicit thoughts and feelings to gain a better understanding of people’s genuine views. It allows us to get as close as possible to people’s honest opinions.”

Participants in the research are shown two images on a computer screen and are asked to assign words, which appear below, to each image. This creates a profile of people’s associations which in turn creates an accurate picture of public opinion. 

The research could have big implications for the marketing and design industries.

“This is an excellent way to assess the impact of advertising campaigns or press stories on certain brands”, said Nigel. “It can also be used as an effective form of market research and monitoring.” 

Neural Net Analysis builds on the well-established Implicit Association Testing, which was developed in the United States in the 1990s. However, whilst this method garners similar results to Neural Net Analysis, it is impractical for commercial use owing to a laborious and time-consuming process. 

Nigel, who has a background in business, spotted the potential to develop a similar technique that can be compatible with the commercial world.

He said: “Implicit Association Testing is a good way to access the subconscious of consumers, but it is not practical for market research. I saw the opportunity for a commercial application that quickly maps the words we associate with an individual or brand, and that is how Neural Net Analysis developed.” 

Nigel has worked at London Met for 20 years. Before joining academia, he spent two decades in business as the Director of a textile company. 

Nigel, who is retiring from London Met in the summer, added: “I wanted to go into academia when I started to think that everyone in the business world was barmy – or that I was! After 20 years of academia, I’m still not sure!”