What Lies Beyond The Numbers? 3 Insights Into Your Respondent’s Inconsistent Behaviour

The results of b2b market research are grounded in an understanding of customers’ valid opinions on many aspects of business. In general, humans are very emotionally-leaky beings, so our actions don’t always reflect our emotions. The inconsistencies in human behaviour can lead to difficulty in identifying where true opinions stand, and when invalid responses seep in. In understanding aspects of behaviour such as eye movements, body language, and vocalisations, we can begin to unpick the behaviour that our respondents cannot articulate.

#1: Eye movements determine what we selectively attend to in a visual image, and the order in which we attend to these features.

Imagine standing in Times Square, New York. Think about the amount of visual input you are faced with. As humans, we are incredible visually-oriented. The overwhelming amount of visual information we are presented with means that we have to selectively attend to certain aspects of the visual scene. The processing of visual information requires significant attention to the object of focus. There is difficulty in determining the level of attention we pay to stimuli in day-to-day life, where on stimuli attention is paid, and in what order we attend to images. However, we know that the visual system is likely to take the most efficient route in visual processing. For instance, a big contrasting red star is much more likely to indicate attention on an eye tracking heat map than a square of the same colour as the rest of the stimulus(4). The visual system is relatively lazy in this respect.

In market research, monitoring eye motions and gaze can be extremely useful in order to determine areas of focus, and the order of visual focus. This can be extremely helpful in advertising research in highlighting any formatting inefficient to the visual system(4). This is something that could not be analysed from verbatim comments or quantitative data.

#2: Body language and microexpressions may be the gateway to uncovering respondents’ true opinions.

The analysis of body language in market research is something of a novelty. There are no prompts on a questionnaire to determine what certain expressions and movements may indicate in an interview. The study of body language has been of interest for many years in psychology, amongst humans and animals alike. It is largely acknowledged that emotions are key drivers of behavioural outputs, initiated by arousal in the nervous system. A stronger emotional response is likely to initiate a stronger behavioural response. We know that wrongly-articulated emotions are likely to spill into body language. Classic tell-tale body language which indicates that the respondent does not believe what they are saying includes:

  • Sudden head movements
  • Covering of the mouth with the hands
  • Shuffling feet
  • A lack of blinking
  • A lot of finger pointing

Of course, there are many reasons why an individual might make these movements which have nothing to do with inconsistencies in opinion! However, observing the language of the body may be an indicator of true opinion, and the point of inconsistency between verbal and non-verbal communication.

We should also not forget that the face is a key player in body language. Unknowingly, our faces can completely contradict the impression that we are trying to give off. Microexpressions are fleeting movements of the muscles around the eyes and lips, which reflect the true emotion of the individual. That terrible haircut you said you loved? There will have been a microexpression showing your true opinion somewhere on your face. The analysis of microexpressions is often overlooked in facial analysis as the muscle movements happen so rapidly. Their analysis requires facial reactions to be slowed right down and carefully observed, so it might be out of reach in market research at present, but is food for thought for the future.

#3: We can understand what our respondent isn’t telling us without even trying.

So, we’ve learned that we leak emotion through our body language and face, and our eyes follow a pattern of gaze that is beneath our conscious knowledge. In addition to the eyes and the body, the voice is another facet through which we transmit emotion. The speech perception system in humans and mammals alike is a hot target for neuroscientists investigating vocalisations. This research may provide an insight into our market research respondents. The auditory perception system is largely complex, with many brain regions involved in the process. A potential springboard into understanding this system may be to look at the interaction of movement with vocalisation. Most speech is accompanied by movements of some kind, be it hand movements or over-articulation. Before we begin to emit our emotional response to a question, we must first understand what is being asked. Recent developments have suggested that articulation accompanied by movements elicit a stronger auditory response than vocalisations alone(1), suggesting that asking questions in a face-to-face setting requires more than simple reading. Perhaps our respondents need a little more.

Furthermore, the observation of speech has revealed how vocalisations shift in comparison to neutral speech when they are powered by emotion. For instance, it has been shown that anger leads to more accurate and deliberate pronunciation compared to neutral speech, whereas boredom may lead to inaccurate or sloppy speech(2). If neutral indifference is our baseline, we can listen for hidden emotion in speech through pronunciation and the effort put into vocalisations. Interestingly, we instinctively search speech for emotion, recruiting areas of the prefrontal cortex suitable for ‘mind reading’(3). Therefore, we are already unknowingly adept at fishing for vocal emotional cues from our respondents, though this may not always be at the forefront of our research minds. In understanding the respondent, perhaps this should be a target of interest.

To Summarise…

The premise of market research is to understand opinion in order to facilitate positive change in businesses. Clients rely on us as b2b researchers to collate the most valid responses in order to make such recommendations for their businesses. Hence, it is perhaps wise to first understand our respondents and the behaviours that they cannot articulate, so that we can present the most valid and reliable account to our clients.


1. Agnew, Z.K., McGettigan, C., Banks, B. and Scott, S.K., 2013. Articulatory movements modulate auditory responses to speech. Neuroimage, 73, pp.191-199.
2. Kienast, M. and Sendlmeier, W.F., 2000. Acoustical analysis of spectral and temporal changes in emotional speech. In ISCA Tutorial and Research Workshop (ITRW) on Speech and Emotion.
3. Ververidis, D. and Kotropoulos, C., 2006. Emotional speech recognition: Resources, features, and methods. Speech communication, 48(9), pp.1162-1181.
4. Wedel, M. and Pieters, R., 2008. Eye tracking for visual marketing. Foundations and Trends® in Marketing, 1(4), pp.231-320.

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