Unaided Recall and Aided Recall
in Focus Groups and Depth Interviews

Unaided recall and aided recall are methods to bring back information from memory, in qualitative marketing research.

The role of the moderator is to gain information from respondents. This information comes mainly from a person’s memory.

So what is memory?

It is the mind’s ability to encode, store, and recall information. There are several theories about memory. The mind has short-term and long-term memory. The mind is conscious and subconscious.

So how does memory work physiologically?

100 Billion Neurons

Neuroscientists believe the brain consists of over 100 billion neurons. A complex neural network connects neurons and clusters of neurons, which stores information.

When stimuli run through the neural network, they activate neurons, which store memories.

Those neurons activate other related neurons, which store other memories, and produce memory associations.

People rebuild stories from memories. These stories need rebuilding because memories change.

New information changes memories. New perceptions change memories. Memories forget, fade, and become fuzzy with time.

So how to aid recall when conducting focus groups?

Three Types of Recall When Moderating

You use three types of recall methods.

They are unaided recall, partly aided recall, and aided recall.

1. Unaided Recall

The moderator asks respondents to recall information without the aid of a cue or prompt.

Here are examples.

“Please tell me all the brands of mobile phones you can think of.”

Always ask unaided questions before aided questions to minimize bias.

2. Partly Aided Recall

You ask respondents to recall knowledge, feelings, or beliefs by offering a partial cue or prompt. The cue is general.

Here are common examples of partial cues.

“In your mind’s eye, please picture a store cell phone store. What brands do you see?”

“Please think back to when you bought your cell phone. What comes to mind?”

Projective techniques provide partial cues too.

“If a this car were an animal, what animal would it be?” How does the animal describe the car?

“Please look at this picture. How does it connect to brand Y?”

Also, laddering provides cues. It uses specific product features or functional benefits to as partial cues to identify related emotional benefits.

“What is important about telling your friends about real time sports scores?”

3. Aided Recall

The moderator tells or shows specific prompts to respondents, and then asks a question. The prompt stimulates memory associations. Here is an example.

“Please look at these brands: A, B, C, and D. Which one do you use?”

“When you buy heavy-duty lubricant oil, what are the most important factors to think about... (prompts:)quality, specifications, service, price, advice, OEM approval?

When conducting a focus group, ask unaided recall first.

Then, ask partly aided recall.

Finally, ask aided recall.

Stick to the sequence to reduce bias.

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