What if You are a Market Researcher in North Korea?

conformity biasLast night I was watching a documentary on North Korea and was saddened by the magnitude of atrocities conducted in the name of communism. But what really intrigued me was that the people are so subservient that despite such hardship they are praising their tormentors (read the Government) . What is happening in North Korea is a very unique phenomena – the ruling party has indoctrinated the general population to such a level that people have forgotten ‘how to stand up for their rights’ – in short the people of North Korea have been forced to conform to what the Government thinks is right.

It got me thinking – what if you are a Market Researcher in North Korea and interviewing these people who are used to take every step as the Government tells them – how will you able to extract the right opinion if people will risk their lives by not conforming with the stated ideas?

I am sure such a situation will not happen but a market researcher does face the conformity bias on a daily basis – although the intensity may not be so extreme as in the case of North Korean people.

Let me tell you an interesting story which will help you better understand this bias:

My cousin’s son is 2.5 years old and one of the biggest chatterbox I have come across – he is very inquisitive and will always have 1000 questions for you – I am sure you also have such cute little kids in your house who will adorably pester you with their innocent questions. But the sad thing is that soon he will be going to school and things will change – he will be constantly reprimanded for asking too many questions by his teachers.

Slowly but surely he will realize that it is safer to not ask questions that will make other people uncomfortable – truth by damned – every time he will think about asking a question or express his undiluted opinion – he will first look whether it may lead to ostracization and ridicule by his peers and seniors. In a nutshell he will CONFORM to what the society expects him to be and not what he really is.

We think what we express is our own opinion but in reality it is our perception of what should be the ideal opinion. Ask a kid a question and he will immediately give a brutally honest opinion but when you do the same with an adult he will think thrice before uttering a single word.

I have studied in a catholic school and although on one hand it is the best source of modern education but their policy of ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ has many times curbed the inquisitive nature of the students – one mistake and you will be inviting a good thrashing for sure. After sometime the will to even ask genuine questions and express frank opinions dies down. The students starts to ‘conform’ to the acceptable behavior – even if it is out right wrong.

What we call as ‘free will’ is effectively suppressed and killed by our archaic education system. When I look at my 1 year old son I see someone who will do what he feels like doing but soon he too will conform to what other expect him to behave.

That leads to our initial question – when we have been programmed to behave in a certain manner how can a market researcher truly understand the real opinions of the people?

A market researcher can put screener questions, ask in depth questions and select the right sample size but how will they extract the right information from a person who has been led to believe that they have to conform to the general views?

In fact we all have been reprimanded so many times while growing up we even forget that we are involuntarily seeking conformity.

No one wants to be the ‘odd ball’ in the pack – although it is the odd balls that shows the right path!

Akshay Kanyal

Akshay Kanyal

Akshay Kanyal writes survey research reviews on his popular blog Online MR. He’s an avid blogger, brand consultant and a content marketing expert, helping business owners to craft content that sells.

He provides content marketing advice to start-ups and innovation driven companies. He can be contacted at editor@onlinemr.com

You can also connect with him on LinkedIn ; Facebook ; Twitter