A study conducted by researchers at the University has found that there exists a massive gulf between different peoples’ perceptions of the same things; of ‘similarity’.
The study, led by Dr. Zachary Estes of the Psychology Department, asked participants in a series of experiments to consider what qualities make two things seem similar.
The results showed a radical 50/50 split between those who judged the similarity of things based on physical resemblance and those who went for theme-based relations. For example, whilst some associated a bee with a butterfly, others thought that a bee was more closely related to honey.
In the first experiment, the keyword used was ‘similar’; Dr. Estes found that 31 percent of people chose a physical similarity (for example they linked ‘cake’ with ‘cookie’) whereas 46 percent chose a theme-based similarity (they linked ‘cake’ with ‘birthday’)
In order to remove any semantic influence, a second experiment was carried out, this time replacing the word ‘similar’ with ‘like’. Researchers found however that 31 percent of people still chose a physical similarity against 57 percent, who chose a theme-based relation.
In a subsequent experiment, Dr. Estes asked participants to consider both similarities and differences at the same time when making their associations. Interestingly, this reversed the balance, with 62 percent of people opting for physical similarity-based associations and just 25 percent opting for theme-based associations.
The results appeared to suggest that people who make rapid judgements tend to make theme-based associations, while the people who pause for thought tend to make physical features-based associations.
However, still further experiments conducted with a third group revealed that despite been given longer to make their ‘similarity’ judgements, people still chose theme-based resemblances. The split within the group was rather marked at roughly half-and-half, despite everyone being given more time overall when compared to other experiment groups.
Dr. Estes highlighted the importance of the research; “Similarity underlies many of our behaviours, such as where we look for biscuits in the supermarket – next to the cakes or along with the tea? And what social groups we belong to – similar people or similar interests?”
“Some of us think a dog is more similar to a cat because both are domesticated animals, but others of us think a dog is more similar to a bone because dogs chew bones. Evidently, both types of people – featural thinkers and relational thinkers – are among us.”
It is thought that the research could have many potential applications, such as being used by web-based advertising companies like Google AdWords.
No doubt many advertisers will probably rethink their marketing campaigns. They might, for example, have selected words with only physical associations to their product; thereby ignoring the large proportion of people who make thematic connections.
With the credit crunch chewing us all up, the very thought that one might be unintentionally neglecting up to half of ones potential audience, ought to make any self-respecting Marketing Manager sit up and take notice.