Jan 12, 2007

Using Hypnosis in Qualitative Research

Hypnosis has come a long way from being perceived as a manipulative tool. It finds mention in the world of psychiatry, medicine and forensic sciences. However, snooping on the consumer’s subconscious - just to sell tea or soap is thought to be unusual and unethical by most of us.

Hypnosis – a window to the consumer’s subconscious

Marketers have long felt the need to go beyond the consumer’s conscious and rational thoughts. The application of projective techniques in research has partially fulfilled that need. Albeit indirectly, these techniques allow us access to the consumer’s subconscious. Instead of articulating their experiences directly, consumers project their feelings on to other people / objects thereby circumvent some of their rational defenses. This indirect approach still leaves a gap in understanding which a segment of marketers, is attempting to bridge by directly accessing the consumer’s subconscious - through hypnosis.

Hypnosis involves creating ‘an artificially induced state in which the layer of the conscious controlling apparatus in the individual is cleared away, which opens up the subconscious world of the person’. Imagine a see-saw - with the two planks representing the two streams of consciousness. When the conscious stream is lying low, the subconscious stream comes to the fore.

Contrary to what people believe, hypnosis is a natural and safe experience that we often encounter without awareness. For instance, a person walking on the road, listening to his iPod may not be aware of the time / distance he has covered, yet he would be conscious of road safety, traffic rules and his destination. The difference between that and the hypnotic trance is – that the former is a natural trance, whereas the latter is induced deliberately - by deep relaxation and focusing that dilutes the attention of the conscious mind.

How does hypnosis add value to consumer research?

A woman in her early 40s recalls her first memory around a brand of tea. Tea is the first thing she learnt to make and on this occasion is serving it to her guests. The sense of pride she felt 30 years ago is visible on her face as she relives the experience. Praise for her effort translates into a trust and connection she makes with this brand. Such narrations bring a whole new dimension to responses otherwise expressed in research as ‘I cannot change the brand of tea that I have used for the past 20 years since I’m used to it’. Probe further and the conversation takes a familiar turn where taste, strength and flavour dominate the discussion! Through hypnosis, it is possible for consumers to be age-regressed in time, to recall their first encounters with brands and the associated emotions which help marketers get cues on the drivers for brand loyalty.

Since the conscious mind is dormant, while in hypnosis consumers are less inhibited and talk about personal experiences such as shaving, bathing, and oral care without embarrassment or hesitation. This does not mean they will unknowingly reveal details they don’t intend to. Even while in hypnosis one cannot be forced to say or do anything that goes against their morals or sensibilities.

In a conscious state an individual recalls an incident, whereas in hypnosis he relives the moment. Consumers have reported experiencing the same emotions they had once felt. I felt I was actually there is what one would hear after such an interview. This feeling of ‘being there’ also means that the amount of detail recalled or sensory perceptions felt during such interviews is unmatched. This is particularly useful while researching activities such as grocery shopping, brushing teeth, washing clothes which are low on involvement and monotonous or categories such as food or shampoos where sensorial cues matter and are otherwise difficult to verbalize.

Besides bringing new dimensions to the content gathered, hypnosis aids the research process. Since the focus is driven inwards, a person under hypnosis is not distracted by external stimuli and not consciously aware of the time elapsed. Thus the quality of responses does not deteriorate with lengthy conversations. Moreover, it helps consumers understand their own thought process better and therefore can be an enriching experience for the consumer as well.

A few caveats

Hypnosis is a powerful tool in the hands of a researcher and the need for training cannot be overemphasized. Abreaction i.e. the involuntary release of a repressed negative emotion is a possibility that the hypnotist ought to handle discreetly. Also a person under hypnosis is highly suggestible and this implies that the hypnotist use the tool ethically - only to understand the consumer’s thoughts and not plant suggestions in his mind for commercial gain.

Featured in - ManagementNext, Jan 2007

Hypnosis,Hypnosis and Qualitative Research,Consumer and Subconscious,


lilfern said...

that was insightful. also, on a lighter note - at the hands of hypnosis, even repeat respondents could bear some fruit :)

Reshma Anand said...

lilfern - :) actually repeat respondents are not too bad. There is a place for them in research - as panellists perhaps. Just that if they are allowed to infiltrate without a plan - then it becomes a nuisance

Anonymous said...

Good thoughts on Hypnosis Reshma!! I would say most human beings experience hypnosis in familiar situations that make defences low and push a person in a state of trance.
Just imagine the objects / people that you notice and the emotions that you experience when you take your dog for a walk every morning, when you listen to the same number while going to office every morning (if you dont have any fw or debriefs to take on thsat day).
What do you say?? Familiar situations / low defences make the transition from an active state to a hypnotic state simpler?? Can it be applied in research more easily by putting consumers in an over familiar setting??
How do you actually apply / implement this to research?

Reshma Anand said...

Anonymous Commenter - You are bang on - familiar...monotonous experiences create a spontaneous transition from a conscious state to trance like state. It can be applied to research to help consumers recall a great deal of detail around monotonous low involvement tasks - shopping or brushing teeth for instance - where consumers find it difficult to recall detail. Of course hypnosis has other uses in research too.
In research the trance can be 'induced' through visualization and relaxing exercises. Inducing the trance is different from the spontaneous trance that people get into since a)it can be induced at will and b) it is possible to control the level of deepness of trance one wants the respondent to go into.

Drop me an email if you'd like more specific info.

Anonymous said...

Agree with you. I dont have an id on Google, thus anonymous. We have worked together briefly some time back. Himanshu here

Reshma Anand said...

Himanshu - Good to see you hear and congratulations !

Do drop in a mail with your email address.

DG said...

Hey Reshma,
Just found your blog while searching something on hypnosis...
How you doin? hows u second life in RI?
Me doin fine, in UAE ince a yr n yeah...still in qual research!!

watch said...

Great post! you have some brilliant contents!
Hypnosis Education

Anonymous said...

Great post! you have some brilliant contents!
Essex mobile dj disco

Generic Cialis said...

Vibration and electricity are what makes our body and mind work, maybe with the right vibration a person can be hypnotized.

Bulletin-board Focus Groups said...


Hypnosis is a great many experimental and clinical studies have tried to determine what is unique about hypnosis and trance. Findings are far from conclusive but this mysterious and powerful phenomenon continues to fascinate researchers. An argument for a qualitative research approach to hypnotic experiencing and perceptually oriented hypnosis. Thanks a lot...