Editor’s note: Nicola Vyas is the senior research director at Healthcare Research Worldwide. This is an edited version of an of an article that originally appeared under the title “Competitive Fast Association Test: Slow – slow – quick quick – slow.” 

As any good dancer knows, the rhythm of a dance is critical to its performance. In the quickstep, the slow-slow-quick-quick-slow beat creates an energetic and flowing movement where dancers appear to barely touch the ground. The mix of fast and slow blends perfectly to produce an impressive performance. But what does this have to do with market research? For me, the dance rhythm (particularly that of the quickstep) reminds me how important it is to measure the right mix of human thinking. We know that a huge number of decisions are based on fast and implicit gut reactions and heuristics but at the same time we use our logical and more considered thinking to make good and considered choices too.

The problem is knowing when it’s important to access and understand fast thinking and when we should take more account of people’s more considered responses. How can we know when we’re being more influenced by unconscious mental shortcuts, biases and deep-seated beliefs versus when we’re genuinely making sound and thought-through decisions? I suspect it’s a little like the quickstep. Sometimes we move quickly, sometimes we slow down. Each decision is a blend of different types of thinking. As researchers, I think it’s important to understand both.

The question then turns to: How can this be done? Slow and rational thinking tends to be captured well through traditional questioning techniques. Standard rating and ranking questions tell us a lot about attitudes, beliefs and behaviors, and from this we can develop a good overview of the products and brands we assess in research.

The more implicit side of our thinking is a much knottier issue and one where we c...