Make sure you do good audience research: observe don’t ask


One of the things we’ve learned about research at Think Eye Tracking is that people don’t always tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. This article explains why that can happen and how eye tracking can be used to peer into peoples subconscious thought processes.



Think Eye Tracking recently showed the above picture to thirty men and thirty women for five seconds while they were being eye tracked. They did not know what they were going to see, we surprised them!

Below is the eye tracking heat map for the women:


And here is the eye tracking heat map for the men:


The heat maps show very clearly that the men checked out the ‘assets’ of the man (60% of those tested), while interestingly the women didn’t. This implicit insight would be difficult to gain from explicit research methods, for example by asking men where they looked!

When we investigate further there are other interesting elements:

Women pay more attention to his left hand; he is wearing a wedding ring. Men are less interested in the marital status of the young lady and pay more attention to her face, breasts and stomach.

Whereas the women looked at her bikini the men are frankly just not interested in what she is wearing! This level of detail would be impossible to gain from traditional market research techniques of asking people what they remember looking.

As I said, people don’t always tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Few men would have volunteered that they looked at the man’s assets partly because it’s a social taboo but also because glances can happen so quickly that they simply did not register in the conscious mind.

In the same way that participants who take part in research often don’t have clear insight into why they make decisions.

Allow me to explain with an example:

Recipients of email make subconscious predictions about whether an email is likely to be of interest to them based on very little information (an email address of the sender and a subject line), but a wealth of experience in receiving emails, opening useful and less useful ones.

Assuming the email passes the first test and is opened, it only gets at best a few seconds for a cursory glance before the recipient makes another prediction; is the content useful or not? Success depends on conveying the key message or proposition of the email and providing enough information for the recipient to make an informed judgement as to the usefulness of the proposition, in just a few seconds. The decision making process happens so quickly that the individual would simply not be aware of what prompted them to open or delete an email.

We use eye tracking to ensure that the key points of the communication proposition are the points the recipient engages with first. We then ensure that the proposition delivers enough information for the recipient to make an informed decision about it the email warrant further reading.

We know never to use eye tracking by itself; eye tracking must always be combined with traditional explicit market research techniques to give insight into the subconscious and conscious minds. It’s our endeavour to show to the world the enormous benefits that eyetracking can bring to customer insight – things that traditional explicit research often misses, clouds or just gets plain wrong.

  • Szabolcs (

    Great eyetracking heatmaps. I will post on my blog too (with link to your blog). :)


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