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‘Cultural irrationality’ and its implications for market research

There is a clear drive to acknowledge human irrationality in recent theories of human behaviour. However, most recent approaches take either the individual (e.g. System 1 thinking, blink, behavioural economics) or the social group (e.g. nudge, herd behaviour, etc), as their unit of analysis. They explain irrationality either as a function of cognitive heuristics or of social pressures in human interactions. This presentation discusses the shortcomings of these approaches and argues that “irrationality” also needs to be understood at a properly cultural level. Irrationality is patterned, and the patterns are cultural as much as cognitive and social. Using three examples of ‘cultural irrationality’ from our research across diverse cultural groups in the UK to look at why, despite huge budgets spent on public health:

1. Chinese people rarely complete their course of antibiotics;
2. Obesity is rife among many Somali parents and children; and
3. Pakistani and Bangladeshi men continue to have extremely high smoking rates.

Our evidence shows these ‘irrational’ behaviours are best explained at a cultural level. Finally, the presentation discusses the methodological implications of adopting a cultural approach to understanding human behaviour. It highlights the need for the market research industry to triangulate (purposefully) a range of methods in order to tap into properly social and cultural phenomena, in order to really understand human behaviour.

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‘Cultural irrationality’ and its implications for market research

  1. 1. Festival of #NewMR 2018 Embracing cultural irrationality Dr Marie-Claude Gervais - Versiti Embracing cultural irrationality Dr Marie-Claude Gervais - Versiti Dr Marie-Claude Gervais Versiti Embracing cultural irrationality Implications for market research
  2. 2. What are the emerging technologies in Market Research? Ray Poynter, The Future Place Festival of #NewMR 2018 NewMR 2018 Sponsors Pla:num Gold Silver Communica:on Your name here? S:ll :me to be a 2018 NewMR Sponsor
  3. 3. Festival of #NewMR 2018 Embracing cultural irrationality Dr Marie-Claude Gervais - Versiti Embracing cultural irrationality Dr Marie-Claude Gervais - Versiti The irrational turn •  Recognition of people’s fundamental ‘irrationality’ in market research •  Mix of cognitive and social biases •  Range of new methods to measure and understand irrationality at individual and social levels System 1 Blink Behavioural economics Nudges Herd behaviour Heuristics Social desirability Conformity biases
  4. 4. Festival of #NewMR 2018 Embracing cultural irrationality Dr Marie-Claude Gervais - Versiti Embracing cultural irrationality Dr Marie-Claude Gervais - Versiti What about cultural biases? •  Culture is also a fundamental source of bias •  Norms, values, beliefs, ideology, language, institutions •  All shape our opinions, attitudes and behaviours •  Powerful insights •  Brands and agencies need to connect with consumers and understand less conscious, less fleeting, more widely shared and potent motivations and trends
  5. 5. Festival of #NewMR 2018 Embracing cultural irrationality Dr Marie-Claude Gervais - Versiti Embracing cultural irrationality Dr Marie-Claude Gervais - Versiti Thinking is never culture-free
  6. 6. Festival of #NewMR 2018 Embracing cultural irrationality Dr Marie-Claude Gervais - Versiti Embracing cultural irrationality Dr Marie-Claude Gervais - Versiti We are all ‘culturally irrational’ •  It is impossible to think outside our culture •  Basic cognitive processes are shaped by culture: - Perception - Categorisation - Memory •  But we continue to focus mainly on individual emotions, attitudes, opinions and behaviours, without looking beyond to understand the cultural drivers •  Rich cultural insights would provide a genuine understanding of the trends which brands and agencies need to connect with consumers at a deeper – less conscious, less transient, more powerful – level
  7. 7. Festival of #NewMR 2018 Embracing cultural irrationality Dr Marie-Claude Gervais - Versiti Embracing cultural irrationality Dr Marie-Claude Gervais - Versiti Implications for the research industry •  Diverse research teams and reflexivity •  Social representations, not individual attitudes •  Self-reports are only part of the picture •  Participant observation: mobile ethnography and online research communities •  Material world: objects, media, images, symbols, etc. •  Comparative analyses •  Purposeful triangulation •  Experience and expertise
  8. 8. Festival of #NewMR 2018 Embracing cultural irrationality Dr Marie-Claude Gervais - Versiti Embracing cultural irrationality Dr Marie-Claude Gervais - Versiti Case study: Chinese health •  Question: Why do Chinese people living in England fail to finish their course of antibiotics? •  Approach: Social representations and health-related practices, not just attitudes •  Methods: Participant observation, interviews, focus groups and text analysis •  Findings: - Chinese people were really pragmatic in their health management: they combined traditional Chinese medicine / herbal remedies and Western biomedicine seamlessly - Patterns began to appear that explained the absence of cognitive dissonance ...
  9. 9. Festival of #NewMR 2018 Embracing cultural irrationality Dr Marie-Claude Gervais - Versiti Embracing cultural irrationality Dr Marie-Claude Gervais - Versiti Case study: Chinese health Criteria Traditional Chinese Western GP Illness Mild pain Minor condition Traditional cause’ Acute pain Serious condition Scientific cause’ Therapeutic intervention Gentle Natural treatment Slow effect Root cause Powerful Chemical treatment / surgery Fast effect Symptoms Psychosocial factors Defend a Chinese identity Familiarity and trust Defend a cosmopolitan identity Trust based on qualifications Structural factors Limited availability Shared language Fee paying Immediate consultation Widespread availability Language barriers Free Waiting times Twist in the tail: from ‘Chinese cultural irrationality’ to ‘Western cultural irrationality’
  10. 10. Festival of #NewMR 2018 Embracing cultural irrationality Dr Marie-Claude Gervais - Versiti Embracing cultural irrationality Dr Marie-Claude Gervais - Versiti Conclusions •  Cognitive and social biases matter, but so do cultural biases •  We need to: - Shift the level of analysis, from individual to distinctly cultural - Use existing methods more creatively - Develop new methods to understand ‘cultural irrationality’ •  Then, we can truly deliver insights and add value
  11. 11. Festival of #NewMR 2018 Embracing cultural irrationality Dr Marie-Claude Gervais - Versiti Embracing cultural irrationality Dr Marie-Claude Gervais - Versiti
  12. 12. Festival of #NewMR 2018 Embracing cultural irrationality Dr Marie-Claude Gervais - Versiti Embracing cultural irrationality Dr Marie-Claude Gervais - Versiti Q & A Ray Poynter The Future Place Dr Marie-Claude Gervais Director, Strategy & Research Versiti
  13. 13. What are the emerging technologies in Market Research? Ray Poynter, The Future Place Festival of #NewMR 2018 NewMR 2018 Sponsors Pla:num Gold Silver Communica:on Your name here? S:ll :me to be a 2018 NewMR Sponsor

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