From the desk of Laura Duguid
Traditionally, positive affect techniques have been used in the context of brainstorming sessions, helping to free minds and encourage divergent thinking. Often overlooked however is how inducing positive affect in qualitative design can be beneficial.
Positive affect refers to the extent to which an individual subjectively experiences positive moods such as joy, interest, and alertness. Research shows that by inducing positive affect, one can improve a person’s verbal fluency.1 What’s more, positive affect has been associated with generating increased dopamine levels in the brain, which in turn has been shown to improve cognitive flexibility.2
Practically, inducing positive affect is all about establishing and maintaining an affirming, comfortable environment where respondents feel relaxed and completely free to express their thoughts and opinions. Telling them is not enough. The moderator, the room set-up, and the discussion guide all must contribute. For example:
- A comfortable, living-room type environment rather than a formal conference table set-up
- Ease into the discussion more slowly by doing an extra ice breaker, going beyond only respondent introductions
- Humor! One idea is to find an appropriate yet comical video on YouTube that’s related to the discussion topic as a means of inciting laughter. Humor is one of THE most powerful, efficient ways to induce positive affect.
- Incorporate movement. Halfway through the group, direct respondents to get up and move around or change seats. This helps literally and figuratively change their perspective, alleviating stale, repetitious responses.
- Integrate highly engaging, respondent tasks into the discussion guide. Think of creative ways to garner information that require respondents to draw, assemble something, get up and walk to images posted in the room, do brief creative writing exercises, etc.
For research purposes, it’s important to understand that respondents can express negative opinions about a discussion topic without putting a damper on the positive affect. How? Through positive reinforcement from the moderator. Once a respondent has shared information – positive or negative – complimentary encouragement by the moderator (for ALL respondents) is key. In fact, according to Professor Norihiro Sadato, study lead and professor at the National Institute for Physiological Sciences in Japan, “To the brain, receiving a compliment is as much a social reward as being rewarded money. We’ve been able to find scientific proof that a person performs better when they receive a social reward after completing an exercise.”3
While it’s highly unlikely respondents will trade their participation honorarium for compliments, the power of the two together, along with other positive affect influences will certainly assure rich, prolific qualitative results.
1 Science Direct, L.H. Philips, R. Bull, E. Adams, L. Fraser, Positive mood and executive function: Evidence from stroop and fluency tasks
2 Psychological Review, 106 (3) (1999), pp. 529-550, A neuropsychological theory of positive affect and its influence on cognition, F.G. Ashby, A.M. Isen, A.U. Turken
3Forbes Online, November 9, 2012, David DiSalvo