I was quite amused of this story I read in The Culture Code (needless to say, a very inspirational book by Clotaire Rapaille):
In a classic study, the nineteenth-century scientist Jean-Martin Charcot hypnotized a female patient, handed her an umbrella and asked her to open it. After this, he slowly brought her out of the hypnotic state. When she came to, she was surprised by the object in her hand. Charcot then asked her why she was carrying an open umbrella indoors. The woman was utterly confused by the question. She of course had no idea of what she had just been through and no memories of Charcot's instructions. Baffled, she looked at the ceiling and. Then she looked at Charcot and said, "It was raining".
The catch is simple: don't believe what people answer to questions, because they deliver this answer after a process of deliberation, of looking for "the logical answer", basically they answer with their cortex; while the actual decisions take place in the murky depths of our brain, in the subconscious.
I really liked this story, and I suspect it has been used many times to argue that something is terribly wrong with market research. Because, isn't it so, this is what market research does: asks people to explain why are they carrying the umbrellas open, why are their umbrellas red and why are they holding the umbrella in the right hand and not in the left?
Well, well, well... it is true that researchers are struggling with understanding things that lie hidden deep beneath the cortex, yet, these motivations have not been planted there by a mysterious hypnotist, in a fancy little practice office, on a dark street in Paris. Nor by voodoo.
Luckily for us (market researchers, that is) the way people's motivations get implanted in their subconscious is a bit less accidental and random and a bit more traceable than in Charcot's story. We only have to look at 3 "simple things": biology, culture and individual psychology ;).
About my favorite tools to trace those paths: metaphors, in a future post.