Generative AI is advancing so rapidly that market research needs to evolve along with it, by shifting its traditional focus from how people interact with technology to understanding how technology makes people feel about themselves.
Wharton marketing professor Stefano Puntoni makes the case for this new research perspective in a co-authored article for Harvard Business Review titled, “How AI Affects Our Sense of Self.” He also spoke about it with Wharton Business Daily on SiriusXM. (Listen to the podcast here.)
Puntoni has been studying the psychological effects of technology for nearly a decade and says it’s imperative for market research to move in that direction because more and more tasks once done by humans will be handed over to software programs. Employees who derive job satisfaction from using their skills may feel left out of the automation loop — like an auto worker who no longer assembles parts by hand or a public relations specialist whose press releases are written by ChatGPT.
“We often believe cognitive tasks to be quite central to the sense of self,” Puntoni said. “By [technology] taking on these tasks that are quite self-defining, it raises questions about who am I if I’m no longer the person who does this?”
Puntoni said firms need to consider the psychological effects of automation because the current discourse boils down to one scary word for employees: replacement. He encouraged business leaders to think about how to use technology to make employees more successful and add to their repertoire of skills, rather than take them away.
“Instead of thinking so much about human replacement, how can we think about human flourishing?” he said.
“[Just] a small detail in the communication of information on the package of the product or in an advertisement or the website could make a big difference as to whether people find it threatening or not.”— Stefano Puntoni
Will AI Replace Humans? Easing Consumer Fears
Puntoni said companies also need to mind their outward communication around technology. Parsing a product or service as complementary to the consumer’s skills, rather than a replacement, can help with adoption and sales.
In an experiment, Puntoni and his colleagues measured consumer reaction to a new “automated cooking machine.” Participants were shown one of two advertisements for the same product. One ad said that the appliance would handle all the cooking “at the touch of a button,” while the other said the machine would prepare the meal with the help of the user. The latter was a more popular choice with the participants.
“What we found is that people who are really into cooking hated the machine that did everything at the touch of a button because it replaced them,” he said, noting that a simple change in the wording of the ad altered consumer perception.
“That’s an example of how just a small detail in the communication of information on the package of the product or in an advertisement or the website could make a big difference as to whether people find it threatening or not.”