Lies, Damn Lies and Research

With a title like that, you’d think I’d have some kind of beef with research. Another advertising creative type having a rant about the tyranny of focus groups, railing about the dreaded “r” word.

Not exactly. I’d just like to be able to ask it more questions.

This is the thought that popped into my head when I first ran into this bit of semi-creepy weirdness from MIT:

This is a device that’s supposed to aid communication by mirroring our hand gestures, head movements and something called “proxemics“. All those non-verbal cues that might not otherwise make it through a screen. Its an interesting idea, even if it results in what looks like a stubby armed kid’s toy wheeling around your desktop.

Here’s what really got me thinking about this though: When they researched people using this thing, here’s what they found (emphasis mine):

We conducted an experiment that evaluated how people perceived a robot-mediated operator differently when they used a static telerobot versus a physically embodied and expressive telerobot. Results showed that people felt more psychologically involved and more engaged in the interaction with their remote partners when they were embodied in a socially expressive way. People also reported much higher levels of cooperation both on their own part and their partners as well as a higher score for enjoyment in the interaction.

More engaged? A higher score for enjoyment in the interaction? Is that really all that surprising? This is a brand new experience, so surely you would pay more attention, right? At least you would the first time your boss uses it to give you a remote dressing down with a shake of a tiny fist. But how do they allow for the novelty factor? Is the engagement that the participants feel because of the additional levels of nonverbal communication being broadcast by our shrunken mechanical friend? Or is it just because its something new and different?

The results of research are often written to prove a point. They want to be the final word, the end of the conversation. That’s what I mean when I say I’d like to be able to ask it more questions. Because when it comes to advertising, it has the potential to be incredibly powerful. But its not just a matter of finding out how people react to something. Its just as important to find out why.

Original article here.

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2 Responses to “Lies, Damn Lies and Research”


  1. 1 Patrick Kennedy March 9, 2010 at 3:36 am

    And so you should want to ask more questions, especially “why?”. Sounds like you’ve not been exposed to good research. Maybe that’s why you advertising creative types consider the r word dreaded 🙂

    • 2 otsmeister March 9, 2010 at 4:04 am

      Actually while I was writing this I was conscious of the gap between advertising research and other fields. I just found the parallel interesting.

      It almost seems like there’s an expectation that research shouldn’t be questioned. Like, “we’ll we’ve researched this, and this is what we found, so that’s that.” And from there it can get quoted, repeated, taken out of context and become the basis for further assumptions.

      The main gripe in advertising is that consumer research is used to make decisions, sometimes based on whether a group of people “likes” a piece of work. But I do think there is a danger in any field when people go looking for a particular answer, or regard what they have found as an absolute, especially when delving into people’s perceptions.

      Also, nice to be labelled a “type”. Thanks for that. Feel free to colour me a multidisciplinarian in future. 🙂 Or just someone who finds this stuff interesting.


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