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Elusive Search for the Silver Bullet – Emotion Measurement

Everyone in our industry is looking for a silver bullet – a way to measure emotions.  Why?  There is a belief that if the capability to measure emotions existed, then researchers could incorporate this new source of information to better …

Everyone in our industry is looking for a silver bullet – a way to measure emotions.  Why?  There is a belief that if the capability to measure emotions existed, then researchers could incorporate this new source of information to better guide product innovation and development decisions.  However, it’s not that simple.  In fact, I think this is an elusive search.

As Marketing Researchers and Consumer Product and/or Sensory Researchers, we need to focus on “emotion insight,” not “emotion measurement”. The two are extremely different and not necessarily dependent.  Let me explain.

First, let’s start with the understanding that emotions are a temporary (fleeting) internal state of feeling, projected upon objects, people, experiences, or oneself.  They are either conceptual (a response to a thought) or experiential (in response to using a product).  This is in stark contrast to moods that are persistent undirected internal states of feeling and attitudes that are persistent, directed states of feeling.  Emotions are also discrete states of feeling; which we as humans articulate in language.  Behavioral psychologists have devised a number of topologies (lexicons) that define (technically) a number of distinctly different emotional states of feeling.  I have found a topology of 22 discrete emotions to provide sufficient granularity for practical application in consumer product research (CLICK HERE FOR TOPOLOGY OF PRODUCT EMOTIONS).

Emotions impact our every day lives.  They help form our habits and make us “action ready” to react to new situations.  Our humanity trains us to rapidly and intuitively recognize emotions in others as involuntary facial, bodily and/or vocal expressions.  Science has given us new tools to indirectly measure changes in physiology (e.g. heart rate) in response to changes in emotional states.  The emerging field of neural measurement has provided researchers with a new (indirect) measure of change in blood flow to different parts of the brain.  Changes in one’s own emotional state can sometimes be recognized and expressed as subjective feelings.  The language that consumers use in verbal conversation, peer-to-peer networking, written statements and articulated stories can all provide clues into what emotions are or have been at play.  Yet, none of these information sources have proven to be a silver bullet.

None is a true measure of emotion.  All are clues (information sources) that give us glimpses into the “implicit mind” of the consumer.  By using the word “implicit” I mean to emphasize that emotions are formed from within the unconscious part of our brains, our unconscious mind.  This includes the unconscious “priming” of emotional states and associated senses from past experiences into our memories and the unconscious “cuing” (matching of senses to primed senses and emotions) of current situations that elicit primed emotions.  Some information sources (e.g. subjective expressions of feelings) are fraught with measurement error and bias within specific situations.  It is the unconscious nature of emotions – how and why they arise – that keeps us from being able to directly measure emotions in a way that leads to insights – that is “the communication of the solution to some incongruence or problem which extends knowledge relevant to addressing research objectives.”

I believe we can get to emotion insight without directly measuring emotions.  The answer to this problem is accurate integration of the right information.  Integration requires that we have a framework – a way to take qualitative and/or quantitative information and use them to generate insights.  This process will include indirect measures of emotions with sources of information that help us understand why emotions are elicited.  Here are some milestones reached.  In the 1950’s the science of cognition was applied to marketing as a framework to integrate marketing research information to generate insights into awareness, choice and consumer decision making.  The science of perception was first applied to product development to integrate sensory information to generate insights into acceptance and product quality assurance.  In the 1980s, the science of pleasure was applied as a framework to product development to first integrate hedonic information to generate insights into product guidance.  Today, a new framework is needed to integrate information about emotions into emotions insight.  The development of such a framework has huge implications for not just marketing, but also brand strategy and product development.  It is the framework we need to develop – not more sources of measurement.

In our September 30th webinar; “Frameword: Understanding How to Get Better Emotional Insights”, we will present a framework for emotions insight.  This framework is designed to help us “infer” what emotions are at play in given situations where consumers encounter products.  I believe emotions inference is the first step in achieving emotions insight.  I invite you to register today and send us your questions or comments ahead of time so that we can address them in the webinar.

Posted by Dave Lundahl
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One Response to “Elusive Search for the Silver Bullet – Emotion Measurement”

  1. Rich and Co. says:

    September 8th, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Indeed, the relationships between:
    – emotions
    – buying behavior
    – consciousness-language

    …are complex. Add in the same variables for marketers and simple answers are unlikely.

    We would ask, why over-focus on emotions when what we’re after is triggering buying behavior?

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