Wintertime really has all the images around us of death. Plants die, crops are finished, leaves die, trees are bare, many animals die, others seem to die because they hibernate.
Psychologically winter season is a season of (self-) reflection and contemplation. It naturally makes as go inward to stillness, consideration and coming to one’s senses.
But this period typically is also emotionally spoken a very rich period in which people take time to find inner peace, bond with family and friends and think critically and thoughtful about life
Let’s take a closer look to each of these opportunities:
Experiencing inner rest and peace is often compared with a ship in a safe harbor, but unfortunately that’s not what a ship is for! A ship is made for sailing and the same goes for people: a life is made for living and as such it brings along good and bad experiences.
Finding inner peace is closely linked to the idea of offloading emotional baggage. Especially in this dark period of year people reflect on past experiences in both personal and social live as private and professional life. Emotional baggage comes in many ways such as shame for past deeds or mistakes, judgments towards others,…
The secret to clearing these issues is to take your ship out of the harbor and interact with others. This is a vital part of personal development, psychological growth and learning about yourself. It’s an opportunity we all should grab. Offloading this emotional baggage can make you feel light, healthy, vibrant and free from worries.
There is no better time to lift spirits throughout a community than in the middle of winter. Social gatherings help to counter the negative impact of winter on people’s mind such as feelings sad or lonely.
Light is brought into the family home traditionally through special candles or fires. Everything is lit up by extravagant lights both inside and outside the house, lifting the so called gloom and darkness of winter throughout the month of December. Presents are exchanged giving another sure-fire reason to be happy, both in giving and receiving.
Christmas rituals nowadays are characterized by gluttony (often epitomized by a fat Santa Claus) where food and drink are taken in abundance, meaning feelings of deprivation can be completely forgotten.
Luckily at this time of year people also unite forces and show their concrete social engagement in many different ways, for example:
This winter period is the fruitful dark out of which new opportunities can emerge like strengthening or re-installing a bond with many different people, decrease the feeling of loneliness or isolation of deprivated people and coloring in what you’d like to see happen.
Winter time is also a period in which feelings of hope and faith can be experienced. The phenomenon of winter solstice has in this respect also a psychological meaning. It is not that much about the specific day in December of which daytime is shortest and night longest. It’s the turning point in winter, where the days will only get longer from that point on, and new life can be looked forward to.
It’s this dark before the dawn period which is a powerful moment for critical consideration. This mid-winter moment (the slow build towards longer days) symbolizes the recognition of re-birth or renewal and offers feelings of hope and faith to people: it’s the time people start thinking in a critical and thoughtful way of new intentions. It is in fact about the return of the light and heralding a new life.
December 2012, Jan Bryssinck
I’ve been at WHY5 for about 2 years and by now I must have conducted at least 200 interviews. Some of them individual interviews, some duo’s and some groups. After a while you distinguish certain patterns in the way people respond to questions. One of the most obvious and interesting patterns is the different way in which women and men respond to the same questions. Their different reactions and specific ways of tackling certain problems show the inherent differences between women and men.
There is a definite biological difference when it comes to women and men, regardless of the society, time period or geographical location. Yet, any differentiation between or classification of man and woman is bound to fail before it has even been made up (on an individual level that is). Whenever such a statement is made, one will meet a person proving the exact opposite. “The” woman and “the” man do not exist. However, in the course of conducting interviews one difference continues to catch my attention…
We use this projective technique in which we show people pictures of men/women (depending on their sex). We ask them to pick out the person that they feel is most like them, the one in which they recognize themselves the most. A classic “give a man a mask and he will tell you the truth” technique. What stands out is the way people go about picking their perfect match. Women tend to be drawn to a certain woman in the blink of an eye. They intuitively connect to one of the 8 pictures provided. Men on the other hand find this exercise a lot more difficult. Instead of choosing intuitively, they try finding a method that works for them, a method that brings logic to the confusing multitude of men that lie before them. Mostly they pick the method of removal, removing each picture they feel is not like them and thus ending up with the man that they feel is most like them. For me, as a woman, this is hard to understand. How can a picture chosen by removing others be “you”?
These different methods of picking out your spitting image offer the perfect illustration for a few well-known assumptions about the sexes. Women are more emotional and men are more rational. Women can juggle a million things at once, while men need to focus on one thing at a time. Women are more dreamy and imaginative (or even, naïve), while men like to stand with their feet firmly on the ground.
It becomes even more striking when you’re interviewing women or men possessing traits which are typically associated with the other sex. For instance a female civil engineer or a male nurse. Stereotypical and politically incorrect as it might be, the observation taught me that they used the picking method of the other sex! Being a civil engineer requires a technical (masculine) mindset, while being a nurse requires a caring (feminine) mindset. How liberating and intellectually stimulating is it, still, that we have the freedom to express our own mindset, true calling and personality. In another time and place, where adhering to the role of your sex is considered a moral value, these people are considered “defaults”. This while their personal way of thinking and acting is so intertwined with their natural self, which is illustrated by something as little yet striking as a method of picking out a picture.
I think it’s most correct to look at gender as a continuum on which all men and women have their own relative position. This position can change when it comes to different aspects of their personality: the way a person solves problems, the way someone looks at their career, the kind of music they listen to, the clothes they like to wear... No one person has one identity. I wonder where I am on this continuum and hope not to miss out on any of the perks each gender has to offer!
By Charlotte Boel
Every year St. Nicholas travels all the way from Spain to reward the well-behaved children of Belgium and The Netherlands. On the night of December 5 “Sinterklaas” goes from rooftop to rooftop, dropping gifts and sweets through the chimneys. The following morning is one of jolly happiness amongst pampered kids.
In Belgium the traditional sweets that Sinterklaas brings are tangerines, brown spiced biscuits (or “speculoos”) and chocolate figurines. Now let’s take a close look upon these chocolate figurines and try to figure out what they really mean to parent and child.
Let’s start at the very beginning, namely the chocolate that these figurines are made of.
Chocolate offers us a regressive experience. The soft, melting texture of the product, as well as its sweet taste take us back to our carefree, innocent childhood and make us feel protected and safe. This is especially true for the milk chocolate variant, which melts in your mouth, feels soft and tastes sweet. The warm and fuzzy feeling we get makes chocolate one of the so-called comfort foods.
The regressive experience becomes a bit more active when the indulgence makes us feel happy and delighted. Eating chocolate can even bring about a certain high. This addictive quality, in combination with the fact that chocolate contains quite a few calories, leads to a connotation of guilt, making chocolate a sweet sin.
Within the chocolate category however, we find different subcategories, each having their own emotional meanings. Not everyone can or wants to deal with the regressive side of chocolate, as it implies being powerless, inactive and having no control. The more inaccessible the taste and the harder the texture, the more the meaning and experience of chocolate moves over to the realm of maturity and independence.
Dark chocolate for instance is linked to adulthood and sophistication rather than to childhood and innocence. Because of its bitter taste, it requires a more experienced palate and is more difficult to enjoy. As such, it offers a form of control over the general regressive experience of chocolate.
Chocolate can also support a feeling of power. Chocolate with nuts for instance has a real bite to it and is therefore associated with action and power. One can imagine that combining the two, dark chocolate and nuts, makes for a strong, mature and powerful substitute to the comforting, smooth milk chocolate tablet.
Chocolate bonbons, or “pralines” as us Belgians call them, offer control and maturity in a different way. They induce formal and aesthetic pleasure. The detailed and small pieces of chocolate often contain perfumes, fruity aromas or liquor, upgrading them and making them more mature. The pleasure they give is being controlled by the smallness of the praline, making it easier to measure the intake.
Chocolate can be a personal pleasure, in the form of a comforting bar of milk chocolate or in the form of a fancy, expensive treat like a Toblerone. However, chocolate also has a social dimension. It is used for bonding amongst friends and family.
It is also a popular gift item. The chocolates we buy as gifts are often individually wrapped. A simple chocolate bar is too much of a commodity and is not refined enough to use as a gift. We use these individually wrapped chocolates to express our gratitude, to congratulate someone, to show our respect… Yet also to show off our own status and refined taste. This is where, for example, Pierre Marcolini comes in.
Now let’s get back to Sinterklaas’ chocolate figurines and figure out how they work on an emotional level. The chocolate figurines are Sinterklaas’ rewards for well-behaved children who have earned the treat of eating chocolate. They are predominantly made out of milk chocolate, which induces an experience of regressive pampering and tends to the inexperienced palate of children, who value the accessible, sweet taste. Eating the chocolate is an indulgence, which makes them feel happy, safe and warm. Next to eating the chocolate, there is another thing the children enjoy, namely the fact that the figurines are figurines. This brings a dimension of fun to this particular form of chocolate. The figurines allow the children to play with them, marvel at them, … Towards the children, they are edible toys, as well as things of beauty.
The figurines are gifts from parent to child. By buying them and keeping up the story of Sinterklaas, parents demonstrate their love and appreciation for their children. It gives them the personal gratification of being a good parent. Next to that the figurines establish conviviality and joy within the family, which brings the family members closer together.
In conclusion, Sinterklaas’ chocolate figurines satisfy parent and child, offering each of them a range of pleasurable emotions. So, don’t forget to put your shoe in front of the fireplace on the evening of December 5, pleasure awaits!
by Charlotte Boel
Researcher at WHY5Research
Qualitative research is mainly about ‘going beyond’ as many of the case studies clearly demonstrated. It has the power to research the un-researchable. For the time being offline qualitative research is still dominant, taking up 93% of the qualitative research pie (itself accounting for 17% of global research). However, given the way in which technology and (some) consumers are evolving, it becomes more complex to establish what the best way of diving into consumer’s lives may be.
Hence, the key theme of the Vienna conference evolved around the question what the future of traditional qualitative research might be. The extent to which it will coexist, develop or blend in with new online techniques and quantitative research gave rich food for thought.
It was argued that online procedures are pivotal to reach current consumers and especially the very individually empowered generation Y (born between ’80 and ’95). New techniques such as real time blogging, online communities, video blogging, assessing click rates on statements and google ads, … can empower consumers by letting them engage in research more on their own terms. On the other hand it may lead to more shallow thinking and loss of empathy. Whatever line of reasoning is right seems irrelevant. Most speakers agreed that new channels are becoming available and that it would be unwise to ignore them. Clients – who’ll in the future will be more directly connected to their fan base – will grow together with research agencies in defining the best ways of understanding consumers. Ultimately it is about adjusting to the consumer – just like brands try to be in tune with consumer needs, research techniques should do likewise.
An interesting side effect of a multi-approach (offline & online) is increasing complexity and an (even) bigger amount of data for clients. This exploding amount of data available highlights the need for proper analysis and synthesis. All in all research techniques are but a means to an end and clients are (luckily) more concerned about the quality of data & analysis gathered, than the actual techniques used.
What the best way of conducting qualitative research is, will still be open for debate in the coming years. But in the end it all comes down to quality and the need to establish real contact with people, trying to avoid getting stuck at face value and overestimate isolated (dis)liking, … All things said, the question doesn’t seem that new. Fundamentally it is about finding ways how to make people open, relaxed and honest – precisely the territory where solid qualitative research has huge experience & expertise.
Erik Van Gelder
Senior Researcher at WHY5Research
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