television brainwaves
July 31, 2014

Using Brainwaves To Predict Audience Reaction Is A Marketer’s Dream

John Hopton for - Your Universe Online

A study conducted at the City College of New York (CCNY) in partnership with Georgia Tech looks to have found a highly reliable way to predict audience reaction to TV shows and commercials. The method involves studying the brainwaves of only a few individuals as they watch the content. According to the researchers, these observations of brain activity reflect with considerable accuracy how larger audiences will respond to the same content.

In the Nature Communications study, researchers explain how they analyzed the brainwaves of sixteen people who were connected to EEG electrodes as they watched mainstream television productions - namely scenes from The Walking Dead series and several commercials from the 2012 and 2013 Super Bowls.

The main indicator of engaging and appealing content was that different people's brains responded in the same way upon viewing. When similar brain activity was noted, it was when watching something that had a record of being popular with audiences based on social media data provided by the Harmony Institute and ratings from USA Today's Super Bowl Ad Meter. For example, very similar brainwaves were observed in participants as they watched a 2012 Budweiser commercial that featured a dog that fetched beer. The public had previously voted the ad as their second favorite that year. On the flip side, there was much less "brain agreement" when those taking part saw a GoDaddy commercial featuring a kissing couple, which rated among the worst ads in 2012. The accuracy with which the method could predict reaction to Super Bowl commercials was put at an impressive ninety percent.

At the same time, Lucas Parra, the paper's senior editor and Herbert Kayser Professor of Biomedical Engineering at CCNY, tells us, "Brain activity among our participants watching The Walking Dead predicted 40 percent of the associated Twitter traffic. When brainwaves were in agreement, the number of tweets tended to increase." The system could also predict 60 percent of the Nielsen ratings that measure TV audience size.

If the brainwaves of a few are in-sync with how larger audiences react, then the natural conclusion is that brainwave activity would be a good measure of how future audiences would respond to content that is as yet widely unseen. This is particularly useful, explains Jacek Dmochowski, lead author of the paper, because "Alternative methods such as self-reports are fraught with problems as people conform their responses to their own values and expectations." The immediate physiological responses detected using EEG should be able to circumnavigate such shortcomings.

CCNY researchers were aided by Matthew Bezdek and Eric Schumacher from Georgia Tech who explained what to look for in terms of brain activity. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) identified evidence that brainwaves for appealing ads could be prompted by activity in visual, auditory and attention areas of the brain. "Interesting ads may draw our attention and cause deeper sensory processing of the content," said Bezdek.

The study of brainwaves also has, it is hoped, the potential to diagnose mild cognitive decline or neurological disorders such as attention deficit disorder, and to measure how engaging other kinds of content may be, such as online educational videos.

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