What Are Memory Reconstruction Interviews? | Explaining the Benefits and Process

Focus groups are a well-known qualitative market research methodology for taking a deep-dive into participant's attitudes and perceptions. But did you know there is an even deeper level of research in the toolbox?

This underused but powerful methodology is known as memory reconstruction interviews. More than likely a specialty of a market research company, memory reconstruction interviews are a form of qualitative research that channel emotions and reasoning with regard to a participant's past experiences.

The origin of this approach actually goes back to criminal investigations. Law enforcement members were using this practice in interrogation models when the potential was seen for broader research. Of course, the methodology was modified to be as enjoyable for the participant as possible. If your participant ever feels like he or she is being interrogated, your research is off to a very bad start.

To read about some of the other latest market research developments, check out these three research trends of 2019.

In this post I will cover how memory reconstruction interviews work and their advantages in a market research setting.

memory reconstruction interviews | blurred out city landscape

Memory reconstruction interviews access deep insights from a participant's mind that can't be found in focus groups or traditional one-on-one interviews.

How Do Memory Reconstruction Interviews Work?

An interesting way to think of a memory reconstruction interview is as a form of time travel. A skilled interviewer is trying to take the participant mentally and emotionally back to a time and place of interest.

For example, the research interviews could be for a candy bar company that wants to understand participants' first memory or experience with the candy bar. Then, the participant is asked to compare their initial memories to their more recent interactions with the candy bar.

Memory reconstruction interviews might try to uncover how the candy bar made each participant feel, what they associate it with, and why they have an affinity for the candy to this day. This information in turn can help the candy bar company create marketing campaigns or messages to elicit a similar feeling for target customers.

In a typical memory reconstruction interview, a participant sits in a comfortable chair in a room with low lighting. He or she is asked to close their eyes for the interview for full immersion as an interviewer guides the conversation. One of the unique aspects of these interviews is the dynamic interview guide. Interviewers ask follow-up questions that build off the participant's descriptions in real-time.

The three consecutive stages of a memory reconstruction interview are establishing context, exploring emotions, and understanding meaning.

  • The context stage is all about finding out where the participant is in their memory and the environment that they can visualize.
  • The emotion stage focuses on what the participant thinks and feels in that moment.
  • The meaning stage is about finding significance in what the participant feels within the memory.

What Are The Benefits of Memory Reconstruction Interviews?

Memory reconstruction interviews certainly don't meet most market research needs, so why conduct them? For starters, when they are a right fit for your organization, they can offer groundbreaking insights. As previously noted, these interviews go deeper in participant's thoughts and opinions than any other methodology. Another level of findings can be discovered by going beyond a participant's conscious thoughts.

Another advantage of memory reconstruction interviews is the elimination of recall bias. Whether the participant's description of an event is what actually happened does not matter in the end for the research. The important piece is how an event was perceived. The emotions and opinions are what ultimately drive the insights.

There is also little outside influence on the participant's answers. Groupthink is a non-factor because it is an individual exercise. The interviewer is also mostly letting the participant steer the conversation, providing occasional direction to get the best information. What you end up with is a rich, authentic memory that gives you insight about a product or brand.

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Drive Research is a market research company located in Syracuse, NY. Our team of experts stays current with the latest and greatest qualitative market research methodologies. Between the abilities of our firm and our partners, we can fulfill any research need.

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