Unpacking human behaviour is a tricky and complex task. Luckily, there are a variety of research methods that we can use to get closer to uncovering the factors influencing behaviour.  

At Behave, we use the latest technology and apply behavioural science to gather insights on what people think, see, hear, say, feel and do. One of the ways we do this is by incorporating and using biometrics research to understand subconscious processes. In fact, a bunch of us from the team recently had the opportunity to attend the iMotions training academy in Copenhagen where we were able to strengthen our knowledge on all things biometrics.  

First things first: how do we research and measure behaviour? 

The field of behavioural science helps us understand why people do the things they do. It describes two main ways of thinking that drive our behaviour – System 1 is responsible for quick, reflective and automatic processes, whilst System 2 is responsible for slow, effortful and conscious behaviour. To bring this to light, consider a relatively routine behaviour like driving a car; this likely to be governed by System 1. Now, consider finding a parking space or trying to park your car in a tight spot; this is likely to fall into System 2. 

It’s useful to keep this car analogy in mind when we turn to a research setting. For example, traditional research methods require people to openly and consciously report on their experiences and thoughts which is better suited for System 2 type-thinking. However, we know that behaviour is largely driven by implicit factors which means we need to use another type of methodology to unpick and unravel human behaviour. 

Cue biometric research. This is where we are really able to understand the unconscious processes affecting human behaviour, and in doing so, we’re much better placed to understand what’s happening under System 1 type-thinking.   

So, what is biometric research and how is it being used at Behave?

Biometric research involves a range of sensors which measure various signals that our body produces. At Behave, we use the iMotions technology to record eye movements, facial expressions, galvanic skin responses (arousal), and brain activity (through Electroencephalography or EEG). This can help us to understand how consumers are responding to, or interacting with a range of stimuli, such as a video advertisement, website, digital asset, still image or block of text. By layering the results from the different sensors, we can identify behaviours such as attention levels to understand how clear the messaging is and the emotional impact of the stimuli. 

An array of sensors to unpack human behaviour

1. Eye Tracking 

Eye tracking technology is used to measure attention – what attracts or confuses us, what we notice and what we ignore at a subconscious level. For example, eye tracking technology has revealed that we often read information on a page in an “F” shape, whereby the lines are decreasingly read in full as we descend the page. Understanding this is important in knowing how to design content to reach maximum influence, e.g. putting the important information at the top.  

High performance sensors, such as eye tracking glasses or webcam eye sensors provide information about the movement and direction of the eyes, and algorithms interpret gaze; determining the focus of our attention and helping to form a picture of our visual journey.  As such, eye tracking can uncover the order in which someone explores a piece of content via a gaze map and where attention was paid most to, often visualised on a heat map.  From such information, we can derive insights. For example, understanding what people are noticing first, concentrating on for the longest amount of times, and any revisited areas. This further contributes to the ability biometrics has to reveal information that traditional self-report methods cannot.   

2. Facial Expression Analysis  

Facial Expression Analysis is grounded within a wide array of literature which shows a relationship between muscle movements (or facial expressions) and expressed emotions. Subsequently, the facial action coding system (FACs) was developed, which identifies action units, such as brow raises, lip pulls and cheek raisers.   

Facial Expression Analysis tools use complex algorithms to layer, translate and categorise minor action units into human emotions. For example, the tool can pick up action units that imply the probability that the respondent is showing positive emotions such as smiling, or negative emotions such as furrowing their brows. This tool can be best used in conjunction with other biometric measurements such as eye-tracking, GSR and EEG to identify what is eliciting these emotions and whether arousal and brain activity occurred in conjunction to indicate certainty of such emotions.  

3. Galvanic Skin Response 

Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) devices measure skin conductivity to determine the intensity of emotions experienced by detecting tiny changes in the level of sweat produced in response to a stimulus.  The autonomic nervous system controls the activity of our sweat glands, to which are located all over the body and contain a lot of ions which are highly conductive. Therefore, the level to which someone is sweating determines the conductance of the skin. A GSR device will measure this electrical conductance. If the autonomic nervous system is aroused, sweat gland activity will increase, which consequently increases the skin conductance, giving a greater GSR reading.   

Participants can wear GSR sensors, usually on their fingers, whilst viewing stimuli. The more emotionally arousing they perceive the stimuli to be, the more GSR peaks that will be recorded. 

GSR can be a useful metric to compare two stimuli, to see which one induces more GSR peaks throughout the duration (if the stimuli are the same length) or we can look at peaks per minute if the lengths differ. The data here will tell us which stimuli the participants found more emotionally arousing.   

4. EEG  

Electroencephalography EEG is an advanced methodology which analyses electrical brain activity. The data obtained can reveal the level of cognitive engagement of consumers towards brand content, creatives and assets. 

EEG records the electrical currents of neurons at the scalp, this electrical activity is associated with the participants underlying cognitive state.  

EEG can help to determine the level of cognitive effort that participants need to put in when facing stimuli – and indicate how likely to remember the stimuli. 

Alongside this, EEG can also measure approach and avoidant behaviour, which signifies whether feelings towards the stimuli are positive or negative. This is useful for brands as it could indicate the level of consideration or interest in the product or service in the future. 

Combining biometrics research with other more traditional research methods can help us to achieve a more holistic understanding about how audiences are interacting with content from brands and their services. The beauty of biometrics is that it helps to tackle the behavioural challenge we face across the consumer research industry, that people don’t say what they think, and don’t do what they say. Thus, using biometric sensors allows us to get closer to truly unpacking consumer behaviour.  

For more information on how biometrics can help you to truly understand how your audience feels about your brand messaging, creatives, websites and more, contact our expert team today.

Jess, Lauren & Emma

Author:Jess, Lauren & Emma

Three members of our Behave team, Jess Peet, Lauren Stephenson and Emma Tyrrell, discuss their recent iMotions training course in Copenhagen.