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NeuroPolitical study investigates nonconscious viewer response to Biden’s Joint Session Speech

On Wednesday, April 28th, the night of his 100th day in office, President Joe Biden delivered his first public address before a joint session of Congress. Biden touched on a wide range of issues in addition to the pandemic, urging Republicans to work with Democrats to address gun violence, climate change, police reform and more.

President Biden received high praise from Democrats on social media as the speech began with more than 250,000 posts related to the address and the hashtag #JointAddress began to trend, along with #HelpIsHere and #PresidentialAddress.

It wasn’t just Democrats who tweeted responses to the speech, Republicans also tweeted and called out President Biden for taking all the credit for the vaccine rollout. The hashtag #OperationWarpSpeed also began to trend on Wednesday.

During his speech, a consortium of market research companies (HCD Research, IVP Research Labs, Shimmer Research, and The Schlesinger Group) alongside an academic partner at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication (Washington State University) leveraged neuroscience measurements to gauge the non-conscious responses of Republican and Democrat viewers. Applied consumer neuroscience allows marketers to identify behaviors and nonconscious responses to communications, media, and experiences through a combination of neuroscientific, psychological, and traditional market research methodologies. Viewers are often unwilling or unable to express themselves when directly asked their opinions;, neuroscientific measures, however, offer an opportunity to uncover these unarticulated reactions via passive, unobtrusive measurement of psychophysiological response. As such, applied consumer neuroscience enables marketers to gain a deeper understanding of even the slightest reactions while viewers make decisions and develop opinions. In a time when the United States seems more divided than ever, HCD Research hopes to better understand emotional reactions that participants may struggle to express vocally.

Neuroscience Analysis of Joint Session Address.

“He’s actually going to get something done,” “Very, very hard to stay awake myself” – These were some of the post-address reactions by participating viewers to President Biden’s address to Congress. Despite what viewers said, neuroscientific measures utilized in this study found that, throughout the speech, Republicans illustrated larger, and more sustained overall reactions to President Biden’s address vis-à-vis Democrats. The divided response is very much a reflection of how divided the United States remains, and therefor shouldn’t be surprising that reactions to the speech were drawn along party lines.

“This Biden speech is just so comfortingly normal,” suggested political commentator Aisha C. Mills (@AishaMoodMills), perhaps suggesting why we observed democrat viewer responses as more reserved.

Participating viewers were connected to biometric sensors measuring their psychophysiological response to the statements, demeanor, and stage movements of President Biden. For this study, we employed Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) using Shimmer NeuroLynQ devices. GSR is a biometric signal that is used to study the autonomic (or psychophysiological, neuro-) activation of sweat glands, where increased sweating (from arousal, or excitement) increases skin conductance (as measured by GSR). Live data showed percent response (high and medium arousal) for each viewer group (Republican and Democrat). GSR measured second-by-second changes of autonomic activation, allowing for both Republican and Democrat viewer segments to be watched in real time on HCD’s YouTube live (view the full recording: ).

Researchers analyzed psychophysiological reactions between Republicans and Democrats during pivotal moments and controversial subjects of President Biden’s speech. Neuro-activity reached one of its highest peaks for Republican viewers during Biden’s mention of Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential Elections and cyberattacks on American government and business. As President Biden stated, “I made it clear to Putin that we are not going to seek escalation, but their actions will have consequences…,” Republican reaction surged, reaching its height when the President mentioned President Putin by name. Democrats, on the other hand, were only moderately reactive during discussion of Russian interference, reaching a moderate peak when President Biden mentioned President Putin by name.

While Republican viewers maintained elevated response levels throughout most of President Biden’s address, Democrat viewer responses were more sparse. President Biden’s discussion regarding progressive immigration ranked among the top in garnering a noteworthy Democrat reaction. When President Biden mentioned that he “Sent a comprehensive immigration bill to the United States Congress,” Democrat activity soared, resulting in one of the highest sustained response levels of the address for Democrat viewers. Conversely, while Republican activity maintained moderately high reaction levels throughout the subject of progressive immigration, the immigration bill itself only gained a slight moderate response by Republican viewers.

One trend that is important to note was the lack of Republican reaction during discussions on racial equality in America. In fact, as President Biden said, “She looked at me, she said, ‘My daddy changed the world,’” Republican response declined to one of the lowest sustained levels of the address for the Republican segment. Democrat activity maintained moderate levels through this section of President Biden’s speech, increasing only when President Biden mentioned, “We have all seen the knee of injustice on the neck of Black Americans,” and then nearly flatlining after President Biden stated “The vast majority of men and women wearing the uniform and a badge, serve our communities and they serve them honorably. I know them…”

During the portion of President Biden’s address where he discussed restricting the ability to own or buy specific types of guns, the Democrat response remained moderately elevated, while Republican viewers demonstrated more activity. Republican viewers were particularly reactive when President Biden argued “You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater,” and when he asserted “One of them [actions being taken to impact the gun violence epidemic] is banning so-called ghost guns.”

While discussing bipartisan relations, both Democrat and Republican viewers exhibited elevated activity levels, correlating similarly in time with each other. Republican and, to a smaller degree, Democrat response levels spiked during President Biden’s dialogue on facilitating bipartisan discussion of the American Jobs Plan. Republican reactions also increased when President Biden claimed that “Doing nothing is not an option.” Republican viewers were particularly reactive to the comparison between the competitive nature of America and other nations. Democrat reactions declined considerably as President Biden mentioned his discussions with President Xi Jinping. There was also a distinct lack of significant reaction from both Democrat and Republican viewers when President Biden spoke about bringing troops home from Afghanistan.

Key Take-Away: “America is on the move again.” 

As President Joe Biden took to the stage to give his first public address before a joint session of Congress, biometric sensors measuring psychophysiological response of Democrat and Republican viewers gave deeper insights into the overall experience. Democrat response peaked during a few key portions of the speech, most namely when President Biden discussed progressive immigration reform; however, this study found Republicans were the most reactive. While Democrat Congresspeople and many media news pundits celebrated Biden’s words, there wasn’t nearly as much reaction from democrat viewers.

Dan Merica (@merica), national political reporter for CNN, wrote, “And there is the Biden line that will be played countless times: ‘Now, after just 100 days, I can report to the nation: America is on the move again.’ #JointAddress”

Learning what topics do or do not elicit reactions gives researchers and political enthusiasts an interesting window into the viewers’ experience and thinking. Understanding and reading these reactions live during a speech or event may provide key insights that would benefit reporters, media pundits, and enthusiasts. Reactions between party lines are clearly very different to this first address to Congress, perhaps reflective of a still very divided nation. Only time will tell how these perceptions may change over the next four years.  

Be sure to join in next time and stay up-to-date with the latest in applied consumer neuroscience by following us on Twitter (@HCDResearchInc) and subscribing to our YouTube Channel.

If you are interested in learning more about this neuropolitical research, please contact Allison Gutkowski (

New Hire Alert!

Please join us in giving a warm welcome to our newest Market Research Analyst, Aja Allison

Originally from the U.S. Virgin Islands, Aja received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and International Relations in 2019 at New College of Florida. While attending New College of Florida, Aja developed a passion for market research and understanding the ways in which consumer behavior drives whole industries. During her junior year, she studied abroad in Seoul, South Korea, where she conducted research into Chinese tourism demand of South Korea as a market destination. Her thesis was later defended before a committee of professors.

Prior to joining HCD, Aja worked as a Research Coordinator for HCP Associates, where she coordinated mixed methodological research including quantitative, qualitative, primary and secondary data, survey design and implementation, and focus group design.

Aja is very passionate about tailoring the wide range of methodologies offered by HCD Research to the unique needs to each individual client. She is looking forward to continuously developing her skills and expanding her knowledge of market research into a variety of industries. In her spare time, Aja enjoys sailing, horseback riding, dancing, and traveling. Her goal is to fill out every page in every passport she has, with varying degrees of success.

Meet Aja…

Hello! My name is Aja Allison. I am a 2019 graduate of New College of Florida, where I conducted extensive qualitative and quantitative research into Chinese tourism demand of South Korea as a market destination. My research in this subject granted me the opportunity to travel abroad in Seoul, South Korea, where I gained first-hand knowledge about the culture I was researching. During my senior year, I built a preliminary South Korean tourism model, deploying several methodologies to illustrate the dependency of South Korean tourism on Chinese demand. It was through this research that I became fascinated by consumer behavior, how and why consumers make choices, and how those choices affect communities, businesses, and whole industries.

Prior to joining HCD Research, I worked as a Research Coordinator at HCP Associates. While at HCP, I very worked closely with senior leadership to support clients from various industries requiring research-related activities and plans. I learned how to implement mixed methodological research (including quantitative, qualitative, primary and secondary data, survey design and implementation, and focus group design) to produce actionable industry insights and recommendations.

I am very excited to be working with HCD and understand the wide range of methodologies the team leverages to support clients. HCD is an incredibly unique company in its culture and commitment to always providing a tailored approach to each client. I am particularly excited to work with the analytics team and their diverse skillset as well as use my background in market research to further the mission of HCD and its clients.

HCD launches On-Demand Implicit Research Tool

HCD expands Subconscious Consumer Research Capabilities with Online Services

Flemington, NJ— Today, HCD Research, a market research company specializing in applied consumer neuroscience, announced the launch of a new on-demand service that gives clients the ability to rapidly design, integrate and report consumers’ automatic perceptions. Built on more than a decade of HCD’s customized solutions utilizing psychological and neuroscientific methods and innovative technologies for market and consumer research, HCD’s Implicit On-Demand will move their implicit services to a quick turnaround, online request format.

“Fast, seamless, implicit.”  The implicit reaction, time-based approach is a subconscious, System 1, psychological method, developed and validated in academic research for uncovering mental biases and associations that participants are not aware of or may have difficult articulating in self-report. HCD’s implicit services embed seamlessly into quantitative and qualitative research designs to reveal subconscious associations influencing consumer perceptions and behaviors which can be run in-person or online. The new Implicit On-Demand tool is designed for high volume and fast turnaround implicit research needs with 24-hour turnaround times for programming and reporting, respectively. While the on-demand tool is designed to run easily and remotely with little help, HCD’s expertise and client services will also be available for design help and learning when requested.

On the utility of the new service, Glenn Kessler, President of HCD, said “There are some segments which require fast turnaround and high volumes research, such as in the product testing area. There is a need for an easy, accessible tool that helps clients get subconscious consumer insights to make better business decisions. Implicit on demand will meet this need”. Moving research design and reporting online will meet the growing need for more online accessible tools.

HCD’s Implicit On-Demand tool will provide:

  • Simple online setup and reporting dashboard
  • 24-hr turnaround programming with survey integration guidance
  • 24-hr turnaround of meaningful and statistical subconscious results

For more information and demo contact Allison Gutkowski (

Norms, Metrics, & Media Madness: Webinar Panel Recap

By Allison Gutkowski & Kristopher Woung-Fallon

Marketers and advertising agencies have always conducted research. For decades, they have also tapped into the methodology and concepts from academic psychology. Traditional marketing research aims at answering questions related to branding, product development, advertising, or evaluating potential new markets. Basically, ask the people in that market what they think, which inherently had its issues. Then, in the 1990s, brain imaging (fMRI) and other neuroscience tools (EEG, etc.) made it possible to visualize the workings of the human brain. With an objective window into the mind (in theory), marketers soon hoped to bypass many of the problems associated with asking subjects overt questions with these tools.

There’s been a lot of chatter since then surrounding the use of neuro-measures in media with the use of metrics and norms for predictive purposes. It begs questions like, are norms a measure of mediocrity? What is a norm during times of global crisis? And, how does the industry’s need for metrics & norms align with neuroscientific output? Or does it?

In the webinar Norms, Metrics, & Media Madness: A Frank Discussion on Norms, Metrics, Neuroscience & Media Testing, we dive into these ideas and more with a panel of experts. Below, we cover several highlights of the live session on this engaging topic within the consumer research industry…

VP of Research & Innovation at HCD Research, Michelle Niedziela, PhD kicks off our panel discussion establishing an understanding of how normative databases are typically applied and defining some of the issues that can come up with their application here:

In this clip, Michelle explains how normative databases are typically used to understand what the general public is currently thinking compared to what they were thinking previously, and how the potential issues highlighted in this clip could drive the consumer experience, meaning that the database may not be as relevant if changes occur within the market.

Norms are somewhat of a “moving target.” Due to these constant changes in the market, there should be an established value in updating them as they evolve versus debating whether they are good or bad.

Watch Raymond Petit, Executive Director of the Masters of Science in Business Analytics at the Rady School of Management at the University of California, San Diego, explains this further when calling on the industry to define what a norm truly is scientifically and then upholding normative databases to that standard:

Many companies provide their own metrics and norms that are supposed to be generalized measures. What has been found is that there can be some form of bias. They may not be reflective of the general population or a “true norm.”

Anna Wexler, Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Ethics & Health Policy at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania speaks to this point in our panel discussion here:

In this clip, Anna raises the point of potential limitations in consumer neuroscience technology that could exclude specific segments in a given population if not considered, such as hair texture or length within varying demographics.

With neuroscientific measures, it is important to have relative baselines, or comparisons within subject, built into the research design.

Watch Vinod Venkatramann, PhD, Associate Professor in Marketing & Director of the Center for Applied Research in Decision Making at the Fox School of Business, Temple University, explain the value for reference in consumer neuroscience here:

In the context of ad testing, Vinod advises finding what the best reference could be for the kind of test that you are conducting and including those ads into your test, so you have both, how the new category is performing and how the reference fits within the past norms.

Vinod goes further to explain how when doing this you are correcting the individual differences at the physiological level and then looking at the relative change across different ads to see how they compare.

Whether it is pre-pandemic or in today’s new world, we should stop and think about how relevant the norms and metrics we rely on are. What goes into them? How is the data collected? Are they relevant to my product category? Are we seeing the full story?

It is important to critique any norm or metric in this way as many go/no-go decisions are often based on simple scores or comparisons to norms. Understanding potential strengths and limitations of not only the norms and metrics but also the way by which the data is collected, such as the number of electrodes on an EEG headset, will be vital to pressure testing how a norm or metric will work for you and your specific research question. If you are interested in connecting with Team HCD to discuss this trending topic further, please contact Allison Gutkowski (

Student Voices Series

Given the challenges of the current pandemic, students have been limited in immersive experiences globally due to the restrictions placed on in-person interaction. HCD Research sought to host a current student through virtual and project-based experiential learning activities to aid in this need. During the 2021 winter term, we are excited to welcome Alyssa Rotondo, a Muhlenberg College student, as a Scientific Communications Intern!

By supporting students to develop transferable skills and gain knowledge about Applied Consumer Neuroscience, future leaders- like Alyssa- will be well-equipped to find innovative solutions for challenging questions.

Meet Alyssa!

Alyssa Rotondo is a first-year student at Muhlenberg College majoring in Neuroscience on the Pre-Med track. She is originally from New York City but now resides in Holmdel, NJ. With great confidence, she describes herself as a people person and is intrigued by other people’s outlooks and stories. She is especially interested in experiences with people from uncommon backgrounds and environments to gain new and useful perspectives. Her personal passions include a great love of animals, humanity, and nature. 

She chose to pursue the medical field, in particular neuroscience, due to an experience that occurred recently when her grandmother fell victim to Alzheimer’s Dementia. She aspires to utilize ingenuity to confront this affliction, hoping to eradicate, or at least, alleviate this trauma. Through her time spent volunteering for organizations, she has gained insights and discovered that people stand to benefit much when offered comfort. Undoubtedly, Alyssa considers herself a STEM student, and holds in high regard similar disciplines as they provide balance, insight, and purpose as the broad challenges our world faces today demand fresh, bold outlooks. This is why she chose to engage in interdisciplinary studies which require a strong background in the liberal arts and believes that societies will witness true advancements in the future from the merging of contrasting fields from which we will draw upon repeatedly.

In the upcoming weeks, keep an eye out for Alyssa’s contributions to HCD’s “Student Voices” blog posts where she will be covering a variety of topics in the consumer research industry as well as her experience working with our team!

New Focus for HCD Research: Cannabis and the Future of Health and Wellness Research

Flemington, NJ– The health and wellness product space, which includes health and well-being related consumer products such as nutritional supplements, cannabinoids (CBD), and other plant-based phytocompounds and natural actives, is booming. In particular, interest in CBD is outpacing many other wellness trends, and HCD Research has formed a new group to focus on health and wellness consumer research segment.

Understanding major trends along with consumer needs and perceptions in the CBD market –which is happening in many different industries and appealing to many different audiences– requires a robust methodology in order to understand and plan products and make informed business decisions. But most importantly, a knowledgeable research partner is key to navigating the complicated and often confusing issues surrounding consumer research in this space, particularly in the face of scant regulation.

Amid this Wild West situation, HCD Research has formed a new technical group focusing on assisting clients with cannabis and related wellness product research. Focused on the application of behavioral neuroscience research methods to understand consumer preferences with a focus on the study of the effects and efficaciousness of active ingredients, Glenn Kessler, President of HCD Research commented “with the cannabinoid market growing in the US and Canada, as well as the EU and Asian countries, the need for product evaluation has grown as the market becomes more competitive.” The group, led by Dr. Martha Bajec (expert in consumables and active ingredients) and Dr. Michelle Niedziela (consumer neuroscience expert), will assist clients in product development and optimization, innovation, claims development, and consumer experience.

In this new environment, any brand with the interest in developing CBD products should pay close attention. As this versatile substance moves further into the mainstream, there will be plenty of lucrative opportunities to jump on the bandwagon. In a fast-growing, unregulated market that keeps getting inconsistent and confusing, HCD’s effort in creating this focused division will help clients plan wisely.

For more information, contact Allison Gutkowski at

Do You See What I See? Making the Most of Eye-Tracking in Retail

Coauthored by HCD’s VP of Research & Innovation, Michelle Niedziela, PhD, and Manager of Behavioral & Marketing Sciences, Kathryn Ambroze

As seen in the retail issue of NMSBA’s INsights mag…

When investigating consumer behavior and decision making during the shopping experience, eye-tracking remains a popular tool in consumer retail research. But there is more to eye-tracking than “meets the eye.” As eye-tracking technology continues to advance, so do the metrics used to better explore and understand the consumer’s shopping process.

What’s in a Metric?

Through building strong experimental designs and analysis plans, the quality of the eye-tracking data remains focused on understanding the real value of behavioral responses. More than just heat maps of what the consumer is looking at, objective data collected from eye-tracking can provide context to the experience beyond self-report, sharing covert consumer behaviors such as gaze sequences, dwell timing or revisits on certain areas of an exposure.

The dimensions of eye-tracking research can quickly become daunting if the research is not guided by a goal-driven research design. Understanding the research question is imperative for deciding which components of eye-tracking will best explain the experience. Reading a label may require different metrics than website usability research. Eye movement also varies depending on factors such as tasks or goals (Rayner, 2009). Saccades, which are movement shifts, or fixations, a moment of focused stillness, serve different functions. Therefore, both eye movements are useful in special situations depending on the circumstances. For example, consider an ad working to better communicate the product. Novel concepts are typically only gathered during fixations, making it a better indicator of specific information acquisitions. Heat maps are a great overview of an experience, but so much more information can be uncovered from metrics such as time to first fixation (how long it takes to focus on a pre-determined area or item) or sequence analysis (the attentional order). Considering the influence of the type of stimuli is important while evaluating the outputs, since the task and context are a huge component of decision making. A goal-driven research design would specify both the type of stimulus being evaluated and the appropriate success metric.

Dancing on a Fine Line: Control vs Realistic Designs

In developing protocols for experiments, the key is to find the right balance of intervention to keep the participant’s behaviors authentic. The overall experience is intended to capture the normal buying performance through tools of minimal interference. Measures such as the standardized shopping journey, eye-tracking metrics, and behavioral coding will be elaborated on to evaluate as tools to develop strong, goal-driven research design.  

When considering the consumer shopping experience, consumer research seeks a naturalistic observation of shopping behavior, without guidance or interruption of the participant. Elicitation is often required by the researcher for commonly used qualitative methods, such as shop-along and speak-aloud research, thus interrupting the behavior. However, for analytical purposes, creating a uniform groundwork is important so each participant is run through a similar scenario. To set the stage, a script can be read to each participant to establish a framework. Furthermore, the directions for the shopper mission can be clearly indicated for participants to follow. The shopper mission can be challenging to develop, as it requires a great deal of consideration regarding the exact goals of the research (e.g. finding a specific product, navigating a floor plan, utilizing a kiosk). By categorizing sections of particular merchandising stimuli and behavioral tasks, comparisons can be drawn to better evaluate the shopping experience. Standardizing tasks through the shopper mission gives shape to the overall research, thus keeping the situation controlled via context.

Eye-tracking studies in consumer research often bracket specific areas of interest (AOIs) to give an understanding of responses to different items within the same exposure. The breakdown of AOIs helps to explain what is visually attended to or ignored. Furthermore, AOIs give an in-depth indication of the participants activity interacting with the places of most concern by including features such as dwell time or revisits to the AOI. These additions help to explain what parts of a stimulus are receiving more attention from the consumers who viewed it, allowing for diagnostic and actionable results to be reported to clients on ways to improve retail experiences.

Another simple but important way to design controls within a naturalistic experience includes behavioral coding of certain tasks. Having notable behavioral codes embedded in the research design keeps the experience more naturalistic, while those small actions vs inactions provide more data.  Linking these behavioral codes with measurements of timing provides a lot of information that would otherwise be overlooked (i.e. Did the participant view the logo within the first 30 seconds of exposure?). By having a loose timeframe rather than a definitive end for the shopper mission, it allows for a naturalistic setting without additional pressure to complete a task.

The integration of eye-tracking and behavioral coding within a standardized shopping experience enhances goal-driven research design. Capturing authentic consumer responses is valuable for developing strong findings, and ultimately useful brand insights.

At First Glance: A Case Study

When a consumer views a product on a shelf, the packaging includes functional and aesthetic characteristics to communicate brand identity and create expectations for both its sensory and branding aspects. Interrupting the consumer experience at the shelf by interviewing the consumer or having him/her take a survey while shopping can disrupt and distract from the experience, making it difficult, if not impossible, to assess true, naturalistic behavior. Passive measures, such as gaze behavior, can help to assess the shopper experience without interruption.

To gain new insights into the design of product displays and aisle kiosks for a client, the consumer shopping experience was analyzed using behavioral eye-tracking measures (with outputs such as fixation counts, duration, time to first fixation, etc.). After being set-up with eye-tracking glasses, shoppers were given time to explore the aisle with the shopping goal of choosing a new product for a remodeling project. After natural browsing, shoppers were then instructed to find a specified type of product (with specific features: X or Y). Once the task was completed, shoppers completed an online survey.

By analyzing how the display was integrated into the aisle as well as the consumer’s response to it, the impact of the display on the shopper’s behavior and experience was evaluated. Eye-tracking captured where visual attention was initially drawn, as well as the subsequent fixation sequences. Search duration and gaze sequences, especially when paired with the qualitative survey responses, uncovered the ease or difficulty participants had in finding products or features within the display. This output provided a diagnostic solution for specific visual components to accentuate for future improvements. Additionally, the eye-tracking paired with the online survey shared the ergonomic style sought after when searching for a product. The structure and materials of the package itself can help items stand-out among a crowded aisle.

Overall results from this research suggested the display was well-received, and shoppers liked the organization and variety in the display. The location of the display influenced shoppers’ visual attention. Most shoppers noticed the display when it was in the center of the aisle instead of the endcap, where it was overlooked. By using eye-tracking and behavioral coding during a standardized shopping experience, the key visual factors which have an influence on the experience were detected. Furthermore, the micro decisions within gaze behavior pared with the survey responses give insight into consumer cognition, sharing a unique vantage point of the shopper experience.

Finding a Happy Medium

By striking a balance between realistic stimuli and controlled points of measurements, eye-tracking data, especially when used with a goal-driven research design, provides unique and powerful insight about consumer experience with advertising, in-store merchandising, and other marketing stimuli. Through incorporating the latest eye-tracking technology and analysis tools, combined with a behavioral approach to research, HCD has been able to go beyond traditional retail experience research and dive deeper for true actionable results.


Krishna, A. (2012). An integrative review of sensory marketing: Engaging the senses to affect perception, judgment and behavior. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 22(3), 332–351.

Lindstrom, M. (2006). Brand Sense: How to Build Powerful Brands Through Touch, Taste, Smell, Sight and Sound. Strategic Direction, 22(2), 80–81.

Rayner, K. (2009). Eye movements and attention in reading, scene perception, and visual search. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology62(8), 1457–1506.

Continued Results of the NeuroPolitical Presidential Debate Study: Biden Voters

As President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden faced off on stage for the first time, a consortium of market research companies (HCD Research Inc., Shimmer Research Inc., IVP Research Labs, and The Schlesinger Group) used neuroscience measurement to gauge voter response to the September 29th Presidential Debate. Applied neuroscience, also known as neuromarketing, allows marketers to identify non-conscious response to communications. Biometric practitioners and neuropolitical experts suggest neuro-measures can tap into reactions that voters are often unwilling or unable to express.

We identified key salient moments (when Biden Voters’ physiological reaction was greatest – with the majority of the group experiencing sustained (3+ seconds) increases in both moderate and/or high arousal for a total score above 130/200). The graphs below represent these salient moments where scores were averaged over the salient time periods (3+ seconds, which differ for each moment).

Many voters have known who they are voting for, long before these debates. Expectations of these pre-decided voters are that they will side with their own candidate over the opponent. In fact, going into the debate, the majority of voters who claimed intention to vote for Biden, in our study, also believed that Biden would win and benefit most from the debate. They stated, “I feel the debate skills that Joe Biden possess are greater than Donald Trump’s,” “I believe he (Biden) is smarter,” “Trump will overreact and be perceived as unprofessional,” and “He (Biden) appears more genuine and honest.”

But what would their psychophysiological responses reveal about how they reacted to the live performances of each candidate? Below are the results focusing on the big reaction moments of Biden voters during the debate.

Key Questions About Biden Voters:

  • What topics did they have the biggest response to?
  • How did their reactions differ from Trump/Undecided voters?

Biggest Reactions:

Notably, we didn’t see as the same magnitude of reaction from Biden Voters as we did for Trump voters. Where the largest Trump Voter reactions topped over 160 on our scoring, only 1 moment scored over 150 for Biden Voters.

During the segment discussing COVID-19, Wallace asked Trump about holding rallies during a pandemic and about not wearing masks publicly. Trump suggested that all Biden does is wear masks while he only wears them when needed. This evoked the largest reaction from Biden voters for the night as well as a big reaction from Undecided Voters.

Trump says, “When needed I wear masks, I don’t wear masks like him…”

With the Crowd:

Biden voters had a very large reaction, alongside Trump and Undecided Voters, to Biden’s frustration with Trump’s reactions, culminating in his now famous “Will you shut up, man” jab. It’s not clear whether this was a positive or negative response by voters. But given the consensus among all three voter groups in reactivity, it is clear this was a big moment during the debate.

Trump interrupting then Biden says, “Will you shut up, man” followed by more interrupting and Biden says, “This is so unpresidential”

Interruption & Interjections

There was a lot of arguing during this debate that did not follow the debate rules. The candidates interrupted one another which often led to bickering, with most of the interruptions coming from Trump. But how did Biden voters feel about the interruptions and bickering?

Biden voters had bigger reactions to these moments of bickering than Trump or Undecided voters. Both Biden and Undecided Voters reacted strongly to Wallace scolding Trump about the interruptions.

Men arguing then Wallace says, “New segment Covid-19, let’s try to be serious”

After much arguing and Wallace scolding to move to next segment; Trump, “and him too”; Wallace, “You’ve been doing more of the interrupting” then Wallace starts segment on race

Biden Bites Back

Many insults flew around during the debate from both candidates. We did wonder if voters would react more strongly to insults toward or from their candidate. For Biden voters, moments when Biden threw his own insults at Trump evoked significant response.

Biden says, “This is the same man that told you by Easter this would be gone.. maybe you could inject some bleach in your arm”

Biden, “Well it’s hard to get any in with this clown”

Moments of Clarity

Despite all the chaos and bickering, there were moments of clarity where the candidates gave clear responses to questions. As we examined these big moments when Biden voters had big reactions, we found that some of these seem to be when Biden was able to clearly respond to questions and state his position.

Notably, Trump voters also responded strongly when Biden asserted that he would accept election results.

Biden finished saying he’d accept the election outcome Trump interrupts about fraud while Wallace ends debate

Wallace to Biden regarding what this will all cost and the green new deal and Biden says, “The green new deal will pay for itself”

Attacking Family

There has been quite a bit of criticism over Trump’s comments regarding Biden’s sons, namely Hunter Biden. The moment was quite heated and quite emotional for both candidates leading Biden to direct attention to the audience and not Trump. There was much bickering during this segment which led Wallace to intervene and try to bring the debate back to order.

While these reactions seem to be in response to Wallace’s scolding, it was clear that Biden voters were more reactive to this moment. Especially compared to Undecided voters, who seemed to be disengaged with very small reactivity.

Wallace yells at both of the men then stops Trump on Hunter to restate the rules on segments and times

Continued Results of the NeuroPolitical Presidential Debate Study: Trump Voters

As President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden faced off on stage for the first time, a consortium of market research companies (HCD Research, Shimmer Research Inc., IVP Research Labs, and The Schlesinger Group) used neuroscience measurement to gauge voter response to the September 29th Presidential Debate. Applied neuroscience, also known as neuromarketing, allows marketers to identify non-conscious response to communications. Biometric practitioners and neuropolitical experts suggest neuro-measures can tap into reactions that voters are often unwilling or unable to express.

We identified key salient moments (when Trump Voters’ physiological reaction was greatest – with the majority of the group experiencing sustained (3+ seconds) increases in both moderate and/or high arousal for a total score above 130/200). The graphs below represent these salient moments where scores were averaged over the salient time periods (3+ seconds, which differ for each moment).

Many voters have known who they are voting for, long before these debates. Expectations of these pre-decided voters are that they will side with their own candidate over the opponent. In fact, going into the debate, nearly all voters who claimed intention to vote for Trump also felt he would be more likely to win and would benefit more from the debate than Biden, reporting that Trump “seems quicker with his responses,” “can speak much better,” “has a proven track record,” and that “they both tend to say stupid things, but I feel like Trump is more factual and Biden is more emotional.”

But what would their psychophysiological responses reveal about how they reacted to the live performances of each candidate? Below are the results focusing on the big reaction moments of Trump voters during the debate.

Key Questions About Trump Voters:

  • What topics did they have the biggest response to?
  • How did their reactions differ from Biden/Undecided voters?

Biggest Reactions:

The two moments that got the biggest reactions from Trump voters, got relatively low responses from Biden voters. Interestingly, these two moments also involved Trump interacting more with Wallace than with Biden.

For example, as Wallace further questioned Trump during the Healthcare segment Trump made jabs at Biden. Here you can see a large reaction from Trump voters while both Biden and Undecided voter reactions stay pretty low.

Wallace questions Trump who says, “Guess I’m debating you not him, not surprised… you could have done it in 47 year period you didn’t”

Another big reaction from Trump voters came during the segment on COVID-19 when Wallace confronted Trump regarding his choice to hold large rallies during a pandemic. Interestingly, this moment also got a big reaction from Undecided voters. It is important to note that we cannot tell if these reactions are positive or negative.

Wallace, “Why hold big rallies” Trump, “Because people want to hear me”

Interruption & Interjections

During this inaugural debate, there were a significant number of interruptions and interjections coming from both candidates, though mostly from Trump himself. These tended to be dynamic interactions with a lot of back and forth between either Trump and Wallace or with Trump and Biden. How did this affect his supporters? Trump voters reacted strongly to his interruptions, both to Wallace and to Biden. While it’s not clear if these reactions were positive or negative to the interruptions, they evoked significant responses.

Notably, Biden and Undecided voters were less responsive to these interruptions.

Biden, “17M with covid… healthcare loss… ACA”; Trump interrupts commenting on Biden’s failed military healthcare

Wallace questions Biden on adding public option healthcare ending private insurance; Biden “It is not” and Trump says, “That’s not what your party says”

Wallace, “Mr. President can you let him finish”; Biden, “He doesn’t know how to do that” and then Trump responds, “You’d be surprised, he just lost the left”

Trump “Wait joe, let me shut you down; we just shut down the country… (minimal COVID problem)”

Trump “He has no law enforcement backing… name one that backs you.. name one, go ahead we have time… there aren’t any”

Wallace trying to end debate and Trump yelling that he wants an honest count.

Insults Got Big Reactions

There were several notable jabs and insults that have been immortalized on t-shirts and internet memes since the debate. But how did Trump voters respond to these polarizing insults and comments?

The now famous “will you shut up, man” comment from Biden evoked significant reactions from all voters. But some of the others, like Trump referring to Warren as “Pocahontas” and Biden calling Trump a “liar” seemed to be more evocative to Trump voters than Biden or Undecided voters.

Biden on beating Sanders; Trump, “not by much..” and his “Pocahontas” comment… then Biden says, “I’ll get lucky tonight… everyone knows he’s a liar”

Trump, “You agreed with Bernie Sanders on a plan” and Biden (to camera), “Folks, do you have any idea what this CLOWN is doing?”

Trump interrupting to tell Biden to answer questions; Biden, “Will you shut up, man? This is so unpresidential” then Wallace interrupts to end the segment

Trump “Don’t ever use the word smart with me… 47 years you’ve done nothing”

Continued Results of the NeuroPolitical Presidential Debate Study: Undecided Voters

As President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden faced off on stage for the first time, a consortium of market research companies (HCD Research, Shimmer Research Inc., IVP Research Labs, and The Schlesinger Group) used neuroscience measurement to gauge voter response to the September 29th Presidential Debate. Applied neuroscience, also known as neuromarketing, allows marketers to identify non-conscious response to communications. Biometric practitioners and neuropolitical experts suggest neuro-measures can tap into reactions that voters are often unwilling or unable to express.

Many suspected that decided voters, those that claimed they intend to vote for either Trump or Biden, would react accordingly with Trump voters reacting to Trump talking points and Biden voters reacting  to Biden talking points (or potentially reacting strongly to their opponents jabs at their candidate). We will be releasing more results regarding decided voters shortly.

However, a particularly interesting group of voters are those that remained undecided going into the debate. It was unknown whether undecided voters, those that claim to be unsure of whom they will vote for, would react more in line with Trump or Biden voters, or if their reactive moments during the debate would be different from both voter groups.

Key Questions About Undecided Voters:

  • What topics did they have the biggest response to?
  • Who do they track with in responses, Trump or Biden voters? Where do they differ?

We identified key salient moments (when Undecideds’ physiological reaction was greatest – with the majority of the group experiencing sustained (3+ seconds) increases in both moderate and/or high arousal). The graphs below represent these salient moments where scores were averaged over the salient time periods (3+ seconds, which differ for each moment).

Undecided Voters Key Issues: Healthcare & the Economy

Undecided Voters reacted strongly during two key segments: Healthcare and the Economy. This is most interesting because healthcare was not identified or called out in the media follow-up to the debate as being a key moment, presenting a key opportunity to discuss a topic that was clearly important to Undecided Voters.

In particular, Undecided Voters reacted strongly when the candidates were discussing healthcare and Biden (after being continuously interrupted by President Trump with “You just lost the left”) jabbed: “He (Trump) is not for anyone needing help for people needing healthcare because he has in fact already cost 10 million people their healthcare that they had from their employers because of his recession.”

Biden on Healthcare: “He (Trump) is not for anyone needing help for people needing healthcare because he has in fact already cost 10 million people their healthcare that they had from their employers because of his recession.”

Further, during discussions about the Economy, when Biden was discussing his economic plan, Trump began to interject “That is 100 Trillion… more money than our country can make in 100 years”. Leading up to this point, Trump had interrupted calling Biden’s plan “the dumbest, most ridiculous” and suggested Biden wanted to “take out the cows too.”

Trump on Biden’s economic plan: “That is 100 Trillion… more money than our country can make in 100 years”.

Who do Undecideds side with more? Trump or Biden Voters?

In most of the salient moments for Undecideds, both Trump and Biden voters also reacted. In the first case regarding Obamacare, Undecideds reacted strongly while Biden and Trump voters’ reactions were less strong. All voter groups reacted strongly to Biden’s comment that regarding Trump, “He is so unpresidential.”

Trump stated: “The most unpopular part (individual mandate) of Obamacare, I got rid of it” while Wallace was trying to take back control of the debate saying he is moderator.

While Biden & Trump argued back and forth, Biden said, “He is so unpresidential” and Wallace was trying to end the topic.

When Wallace said Trump interrupted more than Biden and to move on.

But it does seem for the remaining Undecided salient moments, that Undecided voter reactions may be more similar to that of Trump voters. However, it is important to mention that we since we only measured GSR (galvanic skin response – emotional arousal), we can’t be sure whether participants were reacting more positively or negatively to the moment. Therefore, it is possible that while Trump, Biden, or Undecided voters may have been reacting strongly, it’s not clear if it was a positive or negative response to what was happening. Therefore, while Trump and Undecided voters both reacted to a moment, it’s not clear they felt the same about that particular moment.

We also conducted a brief survey pre- and post-debate among participants regarding who they thought would win and who would benefit most before the debate, as well as who they thought won and if their opinion of the candidate changed after the debate. Interestingly, while only a third of Undecided Voters said they thought Biden would win before the debate, the majority of Undecideds agreed after the debate that Biden had in fact won. Nearly half of Undecideds said their opinion changed more towards Biden after viewing the debate.

Following Trump referencing Pocahontas (referring to Sen. Warren) during some back and forth, Biden says he is going to get very lucky again tonight (referencing his luck against Sen. Sanders).

When Wallace asked (regarding COVID-19 and wearing masks) “Why are you holding the big rallies…”, Trump responded that “People want to hear what I have to say”.