Adaptive Rationality

6th May, 2014

adaptiveMarket researchers usually strive to deliver clear, unbiased results that provide an accurate insight into the market at hand. This is regularly achieved through the careful selection of focus groups, through the development of specialised questionnaires and the analysis of existing market patterns, so that any results remain impartial and objective. In some cases, in some situations, research results are doctored to reflect certain influences, or mediated as to project alternative information to what is found. In other cases researchers are returned interesting results even when carefully procuring the individuals involved in their research, moreover when operating with a mixed selection of participants.

It might not always be the researcher’s responsibility to provide unbiased results. Whilst we are brought up and conditioned to attempt to be unbiased and impartial to many situations a certain downside to human nature is that we exercise biased thought processes in a host of situations, usually to protect ourselves from danger, errors and impractical decisions. As a defence mechanism, you may say. So of course in the face of research, human nature cannot be ignored. Adaptive rationality may help explain this ‘biased’ behaviour.

Rational and adaptive expectations are usually found as a model within macroeconomics but can be usefully transferred to explain behavioural patterns of individuals involved with market research i.e. how their relationships with different sectors or ideas diminish or increase over time without any explicit influences. The economic model states that an individual will maximise personal gain through cost benefit analysis of their decision making, but will regularly break their internal action model for a shorter, quicker return on their decision investment. Think smoking, fast food, excessive drinking – all short term success, all long term failure.

As market researchers seek to understand a particular sector, the market may be constantly shifting. By engaging participants from a variety of sources, the market researcher gains a useful insight into the market and is able to understand the cross-section in front of them. Except for when the results are not entirely right. An individual’s preconception of a particular line of questioning, further related to their existing relationships with the sector(s) at hand may see participants providing unintentionally illogical or biased results. And whilst the participant may well have no ill-meaning toward the researcher their unstable preferences toward the subject, the type of research, the formatting – nearly anything – could cause the irrational behaviour.

As well as this, we must consider that participants enter into many market research events with a biased cognitive makeup of how the researcher wants the results to look. Through the participants past observations and interactions with the subject they project their ideal market research self into the findings providing an adaptive rationale, unfortunately for researchers skewing overall results. Without specialised participant training, this will always happen and of course, this training further biases results. Market researchers must always take that their participants attempt to deliver their absolute unbiased answers – unless of course, they really aren’t!

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