The Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth

Posted on July 20, 2007. Filed under: Uncategorized |

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THE INEFFECTIVENESS OF FOCUS GROUPS

Evaluating a person’s attitudes can be difficult because they may disguise or mask some of their true emotions and attitudes. These shifts can multiply when a person is put into a group situation, because they want to be well evaluated by others. The case study titled: The Effects of Interaction on Consumers’ Attitudes in Focus Groups by Edward Fern and Terry Bristol offer an in-depth look at how and why a person’s once strong and steady opinion can shift and sway to fit into a group.

Fern and Bristol state that “researchers should be cautious about using focus groups to examine and assess consumer attitudes.” (p. 447). They have used the example of focus groups to evaluate how people conform or “counter-conform” to the whole group’s attitudes. They call this shift polarization vs. depolarization.

The researchers concluded that focus groups do indeed have the greatest influence on a person’s first opinion or attitude versus other opinion measuring methods such as interview style or normal group technique. They reason that a person’s desire to be well evaluated by a group, may lead to more extreme attitudes toward one side or the argument or the other. This flow chart looks at the focus group style of influence: From this we can see that the discussion of an idea can shift a person’s original views and opinions on a topic.

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This study should be used in future applications of focus groups as the researchers state: “$160 million per annum and with a large percentage of these focus groups devoted to collecting information about consumerns’ attitudes and feeling towards products, services, and programs.” (p. 433). The methods of focus groups could be restructured in order to increase efficiency and truthfulness behind each of the studies. Future studies could reference Rogers’ book Diffusion of Innvoations so to look at how focus groups influence opinion leaders as a topic or product diffuses into the mainstream.

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/26622246@N00/228604873/

Bristol, Terry & Fern, Edward, The Effects of Interaction on Consumers’ Attitudes in Focus Groups, Psychology & Marketing; May 2003, Vol. 20 Issue 5, p433-454.

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