Continuing from yesterday’s post it seems my customer satisfaction is developing into a series.  I really appreciate the questions and comments, I sense an eBook coming on!

Today’s gratitude is due to babysitting maestro Lisa McLellan.  You may wonder what link there could possibly be between someone who is so focused on children and babysitting, and a consumer behaviour expert.  Well, as Lisa’s comment demonstrates, there is a link if you open your mind to it.

Here’s what Lisa said:

“I have found myself giving different answers to basically the same question depending on the wording of the question. I have also found through babysitting children of all ages, that at a particular age, (usually younger children age 2-4)children will choose the last choice they are given when you ask a question giving them a few answers to choose from. For example, you ask, “How did you get that scratch, did you fall down, did you scratch it on the corner of the bookcase, or did the cat scratch you?” 99% of the time, the child will say the cat scratched them simply because it was the last option.”

The great thing about studying children as consumers or, as in this case, as “respondents”, is that they are susceptible to all the same unconscious influences that adults are, but are far less skilled at concealing how they’ve been influenced with conscious filtering. 

Part of the innocence of childhood is the absence of the capacity to process what you’re about to say in advance, to check for social acceptability and, just as critically, self-perception.  In other words, “Is it OK to express this to this group of people?” and, “How will I look to them if I do?”

We soon learn not to repeat the last thing someone says to us, and it’s good we do or we would be too easy to manipulate; but we don’t learn not to let the options determine how we reply. 

Let me ask you a question: “What will you do this weekend? Play with the kids, watch a movie, sit down and relax?”.

You may not answer any of those things – although there’s quite a high possibility that you’ll mention one.  But almost anyone answering will be talking about leisure activity of some kind.

But if I’d asked you: “What will you do this weekend?” Some domestic paperwork, a supermarket shop, cut the grass?” you would probably have talked about chores and duties first. 

Studies have shown that if you ask people “How happy are you?” you will get a totally different response from asking the question “How unhappy are you?”  And if you ask which of two divorcing parties should get custody of a child you will get a different answer than if you ask which of those two parties shouldn’t get custody.

For my dissertation at university I looked at schoolchildrens’ attitudes to statistics.  Following the accepted protocol I used a battery of attitudinal questions (you know the “strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree type). 

I discovered that even children as old as fifteen were influenced by the orientation of the statement (i.e. whether it was framed positively or negatively).

Another revealing element of human psychology you can see quite easily in young children is emotional misattribution.  In fact, it’s a great way to appreciate that we humans are emotional creatures who retrofit rational explanations after the fact.

A child between the ages of two and seven (and possibly beyond) will often make a totally incongruent responses like: “Shall we get ready for school?” “No, I hate school!” or “Are you going to eat your sandwiches?” “No, I can’t stand cheese!” when you know perfectly well that they have enjoyed their time at school each day for the past year, or that they eat cheese frequently without a fuss.

What they’re revealing is that something has made them feel bad and they are directing that feeling at whatever target seems to fit the circumstances.  This could be an argument with a sibling, tiredness, a lost toy, resentment at having been disciplined for something a few minutes earlier, or any of a thousand other things.  As adults we learn to pick a more fitting target so we don’t get ridiculed, and so that we get to express our bad feeling; but it’s frequently just as misdirected.

Similarly, a toy will lie untouched for a week.  But once one child has it their sibling wants it too; more than anything else in the world.  This is an example of so-called “mirror neurons” in action and reflects (no pun intended) how we can all react by wanting to copy what we see others doing.  Ever yawned because someone else has yawned even though you didn’t feel tired?

So children reveal a lot about what we all do.  If you’re interested in the consumer research process you would do well to observe their inconsistencies and the influence that environment, frame and question wording have on them.

Next time I’ll tell you how you can analyse customer satisfaction.

Philip Graves


  1. John Ho


    Interesting observations from both of Lisa & you.

    In market survey of any kind, we need to find out the truth and facts, otherwise, not only the money is wasted on the survey itself, implementing new practice based on the study results would further waste resources.

    John Ho
    Numerology Expert Helps Understanding Personality for Better Influence & Persuasion (WordPress Blog)
    Numerology Expert Birthday Numeroscope (Vox Blog)
    Numerology Expert Helps Understanding Personality for Better Influence & Persuasion

  2. Lisa McLellan

    Excellent post (and not just because you mentioned me! btw thanks for that). When you commented on yawning, I yawned! I’m very suggestible! This is very interesting stuff. Things like this are the reason I went to school for psychology – very interesting. I’ve learned how to ask questions to get the answer I want not only from the children I babysit, but from my own kids and my husband as well! heeheehee It’s all in the framing!

    Lisa McLellan
    Babysitting Services – Babysitters and Nannies

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