Sunday, September 25, 2005

Field Research, Purple People Meters

Several thoughts from this weekend are starting to come together in my head. Talking to my friend and lazy blogger Johnny Sparks this weekend, we talked about the problem of psychophysiological measurement outside of the lab. In that case, you would lose control, and you would have a hard time linking stimulus and response.

The mental mix adds to that conversation, the recent blog posting by colleague Rob Potter on portable people meters. The underlying technology has user-worn devices recording inaudible signals from the radio for audience analysis. Although this is good for the industry, what a fascinating way to see what people watch on TV.

For example, the cultivation branch of communication research attempts to link viewing habits with attitudes and such. The recent study by Arbitron shows what we psychophysiologists have always known about self report: the are inaccurate because people are subject to laziness, imperfect recording, and social desirability. However, the PPM would allow us to know what was on the TV in the room (we cannot guarantee that they were watching), and we could compare this with attitudes. Even more interestingly, perhaps, is that we could look at the hazard function for certain acts and/or content. That is, given a graphic homicide, how likely are people to change channels? How about a swear word (a current FCC crusade).

For reasons of economics alone we will not have PPM in the communications lab anytime soon. However, it's fun to consider the possibilities.


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