How ego states can make or break research

Are you aware of the different ego states and how these can affect research? If not, then this article will be a useful guide!

When we communicate with each other, in terms of what we say and how we act, we all occupy certain ego states. These states can change considerably depending on the context. For instance, we might find criticism at work can be wretched, but the same feedback at home can feel comforting. The states can also change depending on who we are interacting with, such as we might find it’s easier to take criticism from our children than it is from our boss.

Transactional Analysis (TA) is a psychological model based on three ego states: parent, adult and child. The theory, developed by Eric Berne in the 1960s, is an approach which helps explain why we think, act and feel the way we do.

  • The parent state can be critical or nurturing
  • The child state can be disruptive or creative
  • The adult state is more stable and treats others as equals

Why are ego states relevant to research?

The states don’t refer to your actual role in life e.g. of being a ‘parent’ or a ‘child’, but they do often align! The states refer to the way that we interact with others and the impact that our behaviour has in turn on their behaviour.

In research responses can be shaped by the balance of interactions, for example – a focus group participant who defers to the opinion of a more dominant respondent, or the respondent who goes to great lengths to be ‘nice’ about the stimulus rather than saying what they really think.

The adult state is useful for treating others as equals and helping create a more equal environment amongst respondents. But we can also use parent/child states creatively with research respondents to be nurturing or to inspire creativity.

Applying Transactional Analysis to gain more candid responses

 Here are some of the challenges we are posing in our methods to gain more candid responses:

  • How can we coax the ‘free child’ from research participants for projects requiring playfulness and creativity, such as concept testing?
  • If a doctor’s day job requires them to adopt a ‘parent’ role, how do they typically want to be treated in market research? Still as authority figures? Or something different?
  • If we provoke the ‘critical parent’ for projects requiring stress testing, how can we then present this back to creators in a way which is constructive?
  • How can we make participants feel they can apply ‘radical candour’ (Kim Scott, 2017) in their responses, including feedback about the experience of research itself?

Some interesting questions to consider… contact us for more information on how Transactional Analysis can add value to your next project!

Prism series

This article is part of Adelphi’s Prism series. Prism is a multidimensional approach that applies behavioural, psychological, and social science to your business problem. Prism elevates insights and uncovers articulated and unarticulated drivers of decision-making.