Multi-tasking public creates qualitative research dilemmas

The reality of the American consumer using a tablet, cellphone or laptop while watching TV is habitual behavior that seems to be reinforced by study after study. Yesterday’s release of a Harris Interactive/Adweek poll shows that fully one-third of Americans are surfing the Internet, reading a book or newspaper, engaged in social media, or texting on a mobile phone while watching TV.

So with an audience that has split its attention across platforms, what are qualitative researchers supposed to do? It’s a lively debate. A recent conference had a presenter noting that “We the People” had spoken with their behavior, and it was up to qualitative researchers to adapt.

But as Reg Baker says on his blog, The Survey Geek:

“This reminded me that responding to survey questions is not easy; it takes some serious cognitive energy. Most researchers accept the four-step response process described a decade ago by Tourangeau, Rips and Rasinski:

1. Comprehension—understand the question and how to answer it (instructions)
2. Retrieval—search memory to form an answer
3. Judgment—assess completeness and relevance of the answer
4. Respond—map the response onto the right response category

When respondents execute this process faithfully we say they are engaged. When they short-circuit it we talk about lack of engagement.”

What are we to do in a world where the respondent may or may not be engaged? Can marketers use research taken when a respondent is on his or her iPad, cell phone and TV at the same time?

What do you think? Provide us some of your best thinking.

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