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Student Reflections: NeuroU 2021

By Bingling Wang

As a student who is learning behavioral science and interested in market research, NeuroU 2021 was a very exciting opportunity for me to learn more about the different potentials of applying behavioral science in consumer market research. I was able to look at consumer research from the perspective of industries instead of academia and more deeply understand the application of different research methods in the industries.

Among all sessions, I especially liked the Eight Mistakes Persuasive Marketing Makes presented by Dr. Steve Genco. This session reminded me that research in consumer behavior has been constantly evolving, and that it is important to reflect on the marketing methods that companies are used to adopting without thinking twice. For example, Dr. Genco mentioned that marketers have been trying hard to grab consumers’ attention without realizing the possible negative consequences. Yet, with more of the possible consequences being found in research in psychology and behavioral science, marketers should update their knowledge of consumer behavior and start to develop new strategies to cope with the challenge of consumers’ limited attention. Interestingly, although I have learned about the possible negative consequences of fighting for consumers’ attention, I still assumed, before I attended this session, that this is what marketing should do. While it sounds easy to be flexible and reflective, it is actually hard to do! The session would have been even more interesting if I could have heard about case studies where companies use other marketing methods to strategically activate attention, so that I could understand not only the problem that marketers face but also the existing solutions that marketers have thought of.

In short, NeuroU 2021 was a unique opportunity for me to explore how behavioral science can be used to help marketers better understand consumer behavior. I look forward to applying what I’ve learned at NeuroU 2021 in my future work and continuing to incorporate behavioral science in market research using neuroscience tools.

Getting in the Know: NeuroU 2021 Virtual Series

Whether you are interested in applied consumer neuroscience, never heard of such a thing, or are an expert in the field, there is always something new to learn and explore. NeuroU was born out of the realization that both industry and academia share the same questions and curiosity about the science, tools, and techniques used (and often abused) in applied consumer neuroscience.

HCD Research hosts this annual symposium to initiate an interdisciplinary and open discussion on how applied consumer neuroscience is evolving, to learn about the innovations in the field, and to discuss ways to do better research, including the related fields of traditional market research, behavioral sciences, sensory & consumer science, and communications research. As researchers, we are very aware that the learning is a continuous process.

NeuroU 2021 offered access to all of HCD Research’s content, from last year’s NeuroU introductory sessions as well as a vast collection of content, from white papers on Applied Neuroscience methods to webinars and vidcasts focusing on special topics, demos and infographics to help attendees learn a little more about everything applied neuroscience, and interactive and networking opportunities.

In the spirit of our ultimate goals of sharing knowledge and education, we wanted to put all of this content in one place for anyone seeking more information on applied neuroscience, this event, or HCD Research.

Let’s start with doing a little “blast from the past” to NeuroU 2020. Below are the links to each day’s recordings: 

  • NeuroU Day 1 (best day for beginners – check out our intro to applied neuroscience and methods sessions for a more general overview of the area)
  • NeuroU Day 2 (diving deep into technologies with leaders in the field)
  • NeuroU Day 3 (exploring sensory and consumer product applications)
  • NeuroU Day 4 (discussing marketing and communications applications)
  • NeuroU Day 5 (guest lectures on consumer research)
  • NeuroU Day 6 (guest lectures on problem solving and review of educational tools and tracks)

In addition to the session recordings above, which range from general overviews to more in-depth case studies, we have tons of educational content that anyone can view for free. Take a look at the links listed below and be sure to visit our YouTube page and other social media to keep up to date on everything we put out there!

  • HCD Research White Papers: Learn about complex issues in a simplified format with HCD Research’s White Papers. These short reports act as guides to help better understand intricate concepts or measurements quickly (with useful academic and scientific references for future learning).
  • HCD Research Tech Demos: Watch hands-on, simplified demos of some of our neuro and psychological tools here!
  • The HCD Research Mindset Vidcasts: Check out HCD Research’s Mindset Vidcasts, where Michelle Niedziela, PhD, VP of Research & Innovation, & Kathryn Ambroze, Manager of Behavioral & Marketing Sciences, chat with industry leaders, internal experts, and each other about big topics in human behavior. These sessions deep dive into the limitations and pitfalls of emerging trends and topics within the field to help you identify what innovation has a lot of untapped value or is too good to be true. The best part? We have season 1, season 2, and season 3 (coming soon) ready to share.
  • HCD Research Webinars: Join the HCD team and various other experts as we tackle topics such as AI, behavioral science, claims, norms, wellness and more! These webinars focus on specific topics to discuss, dissect, and think about how applied neuroscience tools may be applied in these areas.
  • HCD Research Blogs: Gain in-depth insight from the HCD team on trends, research, and case studies within the world of applied consumer neuroscience here.
  • HCD Research Infographics: If you are looking for a quick overview of a topic, check out these infographics for some bite-sized learnings!
  • HCD Research Bibliography: Team HCD works hard to create quality content, which includes numerous publications. To receive the full list of the most up-to-date bibliography, please reach out to Allison at Allison.Gutkowski@hcdi.net.

NeuroU is intended to be an opportunity for individuals interested in applied consumer neuroscience to connect, network, and learn from each other. Join our NeuroU by HCD Research LinkedIn page to share thoughts or continue the conversations inspired by the symposium, as well as keep in the know for updates on future events. We also invite you to reach out to HCD Research if you have any further questions, concerns, or comments.

The New Normal – What Entertainment Venues Need to Know about Consumer Priorities

Audience Perceptions Drive Event Venue Attendance in Covid Times

Flemington, NJ: Entertainment venues—part of the industries hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic—are yearning for consumers to return at pre-pandemic levels. Some of the most recognizable entertainment venues across the country will soon require proof of vaccination to enter their facilities. The entertainment and hospitality industry had been on the verge of returning to normalcy with tours kicking off and festivals happening across the country, but the delta variant has dampened that initial burst of excitement with cancellations and delays. HCD Research, a market research company, in collaboration with graduate student Michael Murphy of the Masters of Behavior and Decision Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, sought to better understand consumer perceptions and priorities when it comes to being wooed back into venues.

People are eager to return, but how can venues attract consumers given health concerns? Which mitigation measures should nightclubs, movie theaters and the like utilize to attract consumers?

Using HCD’s MaxImplicit methodology (a combination of psychological and traditional survey techniques), revealed both the top consumer needs from venues, as well as the perceptions consumers have for different venues. Adding consumer clustering to the study’s analysis allowed the researchers to identify and profile three distinct consumer clusters: a diverse hesitant group, a conservative group, and a vaccinated liberal group.

The following recommendations are based on the research’s learnings:

  • Venues need to clearly highlight safety, cleanliness, and clear mitigation protocols (especially amusement parks, indoor bars/nightclubs, indoor concerts, sporting events, and multi-day festivals).
  • Popular mitigation protocols, such as contactless payment, may not be as effective at enticing consumers and building trust.
  • Venues should consider their audience when deciding which communications will be most effective and balance those communications across different consumer segments.

This research found that entertainment venues need to consider consumer perceptions, investing in COVID-19 protection measures, and targeting audiences with promotion efforts moving forward. As Murphy suggested, “while a ‘wait it out’ strategy might be appropriate for some contexts, COVID-19 does not appear to be one of them, meaning venues should proactively fine-tune their strategies.” For more information on this study, visit this link  or contact Cara Silvestri (cara.silvestri@hcdi.net).

Entertainment venues—part of the industries hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic (Gössling, Scott, & Hall, 2020)—are yearning for consumers to return at pre-pandemic levels. Cancelled events left venues with massive losses, furloughs, and a recovery that could last into the next three years (Nhamo, Dube, & Chikodzi, 2020). But how can venues attract consumers given health concerns? Which illness mitigation measures should night clubs, movie theaters and the like continue utilizing as public health guidelines begin to relax? Right now, the United States is in somewhat of a gray area: increasing vaccination levels are encouraging, but there is still a risk of catching COVID-19, including its potential variants. Health concerns might be especially pressing for people who are ineligible for a COVID-19 vaccine or live in the same household as others who are ineligible.

However, consumers are likely eager to return to such venues. This comes as no surprise given the jarring alterations to daily life and devastation people have been forced to reckon with. But some consumers will prefer more safety measures (e.g., face masks and hand sanitizer) than others at public outings. In a survey of over 1,000 people from Croatia, Slovenia and Iran, measures like hand sanitizer availability and venue disinfection were perceived to be most important among respondents when attending sporting events (Perić et al., 2021). Among respondents in Croatia and Slovenia, who were less impacted by COVID-19 relative to those in Iran at the time of publication, limiting food and beverage availability at sporting venues was perceived to be relatively less important. If more venues were aware of consumer priorities, they could more selectively invest in COVID-19 mitigation strategies, which are sometimes costly.

The Study

Using HCD’s MaxImplicit methodology, we asked (n=250) people to rank COVID-19 mitigation measures at entertainment venues according to their perceived importance. This general population study was conducted in mid-July 2021. The first portion of the survey was conducted using the MaxDiff methodology, which illustrates strong predictors of what will influence respondents (Orme, 2009). Then, we measured the implicit associations respondents hold between venues (e.g., movie theaters and concerts) and their attributes, such as hygienic, crowded, and fun, using an Implicit Association Test (IAT). These complementary measures help to reveal gaps between consumer needs and venue perceptions.

MaxDiff Results

The MaxDiff revealed the top five consumer needs below. Interestingly, these needs highlight actions (e.g., deep cleaning and ventilation) that occur before arrival. In other words, they are largely not visible at the venue itself. This implies consumers appear to prioritize trust and reliability indirectly.

Top-Ranked Needs (MaxDiff)

1DEEP CLEANED The venue is deep cleaned between events (e.g., sanitizing seats and surfaces).
2CLEAR PROTOCOLS BEFORE EVENT The venue’s health and safety protocols are clearly communicated before the event.
3CLEAR PROTOCOLS AT EVENT The health and safety protocols are clear at the event.
4VENTILATION The venue follows the CDC guidelines for indoor ventilation.
5SAFETY The venue makes me feel safe.

In contrast with the top needs, the bottom five needs below largely involve specific and visible COVID-19 protection measures. These bottom needs are somewhat burdensome for consumers as well. Collectively, the MaxDiff findings suggest that consumers might be looking to place the onus of enacting safety measures onto the venues.

Bottom-Ranked Needs (MaxDiff)

28STAGGERED ENTRANCE There is staggered entrance to the event.
29LIMITED FOOD AND BEVERAGES The venue will limit food and beverage usage (e.g., designated food areas and limited vending).
30CONTACTLESS PAYMENT Payment is contactless at the venue.
31REQUIRED QUARANTINE PERIOD The venue will require a quarantine period before attendance.
32INDOOR VENUE The venue is indoors.

The MaxDiff findings beg the question, which venues satisfy consumer needs? The IAT portion of the survey can help answer this question. We showed respondents multiple pairings of venues and descriptors. An example pairing is “movie theaters” and “organized.” Then, respondents revealed their association between the two by hitting the spacebar on their keyboard or touching the screen, depending on their device. Importantly, the IAT is a timed reaction test; a faster reaction implies a stronger association. Respondents could also indicate a lack of association by simply not hitting the spacebar or touching the screen. Nine venues and ten descriptors were tested in this study.

IAT Results

Below is a summary of the IAT findings in relation to the MaxDiff findings. The top needs can be considered related to the attributes Safe, Reliable, and Organized, which were tested in the IAT. The venues on the right—the “Top Venues”—were given their status because they had at least a minimum association with each of the words Safe, Reliable, and Organized. While these venues appear to satisfy consumer needs, the “Bottom Venues” (not listed in the graphic) do not. These include Amusement Parks, Indoor Bars and Nightclubs, Indoor Music Concerts, Indoor Sporting Events, and Outdoor Multi-Day Music Festivals. Therefore, we can recommend that these venues highlight their attributes of Safety, Reliability, and Organization within their messaging to better satisfy consumer needs.

Diagram, venn diagram

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Consumer Clustering

Another useful way to gather insights from these data is through consumer clustering. This technique allows for consumer segmentation according to similarity. Specifically, K-Means clustering was performed using the MaxDiff data (results shown below) using the software R, resulting in three consumer clusters. The Dimensions represent “collapsed” data. Instead of mapping consumers by the numerous individual variables that were collected, they were mapped according to Dimensions which help summarize the key drivers behind the clusters. The percentages next to the Dimensions indicate how much that Dimension is contributing to the overall clustering. Further, each has a unique profile. The top three variables contributing to Dimension 1 include 1) I feel I will belong at the venue, 2) The experience feels luxurious, and 3) The experience is fun. For Dimension 2, they are 1) The venue makes me feel safe, 2) The venue will require a quarantine period, and 3) The venue is hygienic.

New Hire Alert!

Please join us in giving a warm welcome to our newest Market Research Analyst, Sadie Snyder

Sadie received her Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing from Montclair State University in 2019. When she transferred to MSU, Sadie says she discovered an interest in statistics, which led her to explore the vast research aspects of marketing. After taking classes pertaining to marketing research, she gained foundational skills such as developing questionnaires, analyzing research data, and participating in on-campus focus groups. From there, she discovered her passions for data collection and the identification of trends and patterns within data.

Following MSU, I was looking for my start in marketing research, which lead me here to HCD Research. It was incredible to discover that HCD uses methodologies that weren’t covered in the many classes I took. I’m looking forward to the boundless innovation HCD Research fosters in our team and understanding our processes for projects from start to finish. When the workday ends, I spend my time kayaking, listening to my self-made music playlist (perfect for long road trips or a quick local drive), and going on adventures with my family dog, Peppa.

By building a team of analysts that have demonstrated a passion for consumer insights early on in their careers, HCD takes pride in the caliber of team members we have on staff to provide innovative solutions for challenging research objectives. We’re so excited to see Sadie continue to evolve in the analytics department of Team HCD!

Augmented Reality Market Research: Connect with consumers in the durable goods and CPG markets

Augmented reality (AR) involves the inclusion of virtual elements into a live view of a current, real-world space, bridging the gap between the physical and digital worlds.

HCD introduces AR Surveys, a novel market research methodology allowing consumers to respond to digital survey questions while viewing a product or consumer experience through their device’s camera. This use of AR Surveys merges a physical product with a digital landscape to better understand consumer perceptions. It is easy to implement, provides an opportunity for creative insights, and uncovers in-the-moment reactions. It creates a fun and easy opportunity for consumers to evaluate products and experiences in store or at home with their own smartphone or tablet.

AR Surveys can be done virtually anywhere, serving as a non-disruptive shop-along to an easy in-home use test. Rather than communicate with an interviewer, participants can give honest opinions about all types of products without concerns for feeling embarrassed or uncomfortable. Similarly, this approach is beneficial for research on more intimate products and gives participants time to think without being rushed. The AR Surveys also gives space for participants to come to their own in-the-moment feedback. This type of survey collects data in real-time or at point-of-purchase, helping participants give top-of-mind answers without any judgment.

From computers to smartphones, screens are embedded in our society and will continue to be one of the lenses in which consumers engage. Using a familiar tool to assess consumer perceptions fosters understanding and truthfulness in the modern world. AR Surveys push the boundaries between naturalistic and controlled research, exposing drivers of decision making by modernizing conventional consumer research with a cost-effective approach.

Meeting consumers in-the-moment with the right tools empowers any research to move forward efficiently by driving meaningful, future innovation. HCD specializes in Consumer Neuroscience and Brand Harmony in addition to Market & Consumer Research. We strive to promote quality research by using the right tools for the right question to ensure that products meet their promise.

If you are interested in learning more about how to use AR Surveys to progress your research, please contact Allison Gutkowski at allison.gutkowski@hcdi.net

New Hire Alert!

Please join us in giving a warm welcome to our newest Market Research Analyst Intern, Isha Deswal

A 2020 graduate from the Master of Behavioral and Decision Sciences program of the University of Pennsylvania, Isha is a human behavior and insights enthusiast. She developed a keen interest in market research after pursuing courses in consumer behavior and data analysis from the Wharton School where she had a chance to work on client projects and case studies. Her experience as a research assistant during both her undergraduate and graduate studies has given her the skills and deep understanding of qualitative and quantitative research methods.

Intrigued by HCD’s unique approach to market research through neuroscience and psychology tools, Isha is excited to be able to learn new and different techniques in market research. She aims to apply her existing knowledge and background to contribute to HCD’s mission of employing the most innovative and effective research tools to get the best consumer experience insights.

By supporting students to develop transferable skills and gain knowledge about Applied Consumer Neuroscience, future leaders- like Isha- will be well-equipped to find innovative solutions for challenging questions. We’re so excited to see you continue to grow in the analytics department of Team HCD!

The Brand-Consumer Connection: Finding Loyalty in the Loops

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

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

A positive, personal experience with a brand tailored to habit formation is an effective way to make a product become a household staple. Growing up baking with a certain type of chocolate chip or cleaning with a specific disinfectant spray shapes expectations and acceptability, with the brand being at the cornerstone of the experience. Chaudhuri and Holbrook (2001) explain how consumers expect a product to perform a certain way based on prior experiences, creating trust and loyalty to that brand of that product. Some brands can become so deeply embedded in consumers’ lives that they act as an extension of self-expression, a representative of who they are (van der Westhuizen, 2018). Through brand loyalty and aversion to ambiguity, consumers bypass unnecessary circumspection in their shopping, gravitating, and depending on the more familiar instead of taking any chances (Muthukrishnan, Wathieu, & Xu, 2009). This intricate relationship between consumers and brands demonstrates the importance of brands in life, impacting daily routines as well as special holiday traditions. Paying attention to changing perceptions, associations, and preferences allows brands to mold to the current needs within consumer habits. By connecting to the consumer at this deep level, brands can be embedded in fond memories, in consumer lifestyles, and ultimately, remembered for future purchases.

Every association counts

Associations, or mental links, are built through experiences. Information from all five senses—touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound—are utilized to learn and create an association profile to better anticipate what to do if a similar situation occurs again in the future. Furthermore, the knowledge obtained helps to predict the best course of action to take for each situation presented. Humans automatically evaluate uncertainty and risk of a situation to prepare an appropriate response. By creating comparisons and associations to minimize uncertainty, individuals gain comfort in making foreign concepts familiar in order to behave accordingly. By validating personal beliefs through meeting expectations, associations are reinforced and replaced..   

A consumer’s interaction with a brand is made up of several components which consist of sensory, behavioral, intellectual, and affective elements (Brakus et al., 2009). Each of these individual facets plays a bigger role in developing the overall perception of the product. Experiencing the brand, either by watching an ad or holding the physical product, allows the consumer to evaluate its ability to meet a need. The information gathered from brand exposure can be stored and later recalled using memory. But, it is through the automatic processing of implicit memory that allows even small encounters or incidental information to impact the way consumers react in the future (Keane, Cruz, & Verfaellie, 2015). For example, seeing fluffy clouds during a pillow commercial may impact the perception of the product’s softness or comfort. Every lived experience can establish an attachment between the two concepts, thus creating a conceptual link in response to the circumstance.

Neural networks, or pathways, communicate and respond to changes in environmental cues (Berkman, 2018). These connections are updating constantly as situations change and more information about an environment is gathered. The neural pathways are not fixed— associations can decay or strengthen over time depending on how frequently they are utilized. More commonly used pathways are stronger and require less effort, thus conserving energy. Memories also link performance to contexts such as people, items, places, or times typically present during the overall repeated experience (Wood, Tam, & Witt, 2005). Brands can become part of a repeated action by fitting in the proper context and bringing value to the experience.

The malleability of the neural pathways creates an opportunity to mold products or messaging to consumer ideals and better align them with the desired experience. Consider the best way to engineer a product to be identifiable and remembered by a consumer. This communication and design strategy should reflect the values and expectations of the consumer, making the product not only more enticing to try, but also encouraging repeat purchases. By designing a product which meets expectations of the consumer, it will more likely avoid reappraisal and create satisfied product experiences.

Let’s make a habit of it

Those repeated actions are frequently performed as habits. Relevant contexts cause certain behaviors to be routinely rehearsed to the point where they becomes automatic. Habits, which often include products or brands, are engrained throughout daily life. By diving into how brands are incorporated into habits, product developers can better innovate to meet and exceed those needs. Improving the products or messaging, strengthens or redirects existing associations to better meet expectations. By embedding the brands into the habit loop, brand innovation can truly impact the consumer lifestyle, since experiences are so interwoven with everyday living.

The habit loops consist of three fundamental components: the cue, routine, and feedback. Cues initiate the habit loop by acting as a trigger for the behavior. A cue can be as obvious as an alarm reminding consumers to restock the toilet paper to something as covert as the delicious smell of freshly baked pretzels pouring out of a bakery. Although both examples insinuate different anticipated outcomes, they change the environment which causes the consumer to react. The response to the cue is the routine which involves some type of expense, such as time or energy. Based on the feedback within the context of the habit, the individual will be motivated to either avoid or repeat this routine in the future. The feedback is what entices or deters the consumer to continue to partake in the routine. Therefore, consumer’s perceived response of the product must be a positive contribution or else the consumer will take preemptive measures, such as buying a competitor product, to prevent the same outcome. Feedback can be anything from a punishment, such as running late to work for hitting snooze, to a reward with a social benefit, such as seeing friends after work. Habits are governed by dopamine release, which is linked to triggering the (good or bad) motivational importance of an environment or context, thus “stamping-in” a memory for future consideration (Wise, 2004; Berkman, 2018).

Figure 1: An example of a habit loop consisting of a cue, routine, and feedback. The cue, or the mess, initiate the behavior to use a cleaning product, ultimately resulting in the feedback, a cleaner space. Credit: HCD Research 

Brand loyalty demonstrates how a product or service can be integrated and reinforced into the habit loop.  The brand can connect with the consumer by contributing to a life experience. The brand identity impacts the overall product experience, which the consumer evaluates to decide if the quality is worth continuing (or discontinuing) in the future.  By fulfilling an unmet need, the brand recognition may resonate with the consumer to encourage purchase intent. The relationship with a brand is impacted by how it’s perceived, making it important to ensure each component of the product experience creates a unified, cohesive message which resonates with the consumer. Using cues, routines, and feedback to understand where the brand can help consumers can be a beneficial strategy for its adoption into regular use. Furthermore, detecting cues in the habit loop can aid in achieving higher-order benefits in emotional and physical well-being through indirect suggestions (aka behavioral nudges). Emphasizing certain perceptions through communications or packaging can build up a consumer’s reason to believe in the product and encourage continued brand loyalty.

If it isn’t broke, improve it.

Memories connect the past to the present. It is through learned associations that habits can link certain triggers to predicted outcomes (Wood et al., 2005). Creating a brand identity to reliably serve a purpose in the consumer’s life allows the brand to take on a role larger than its original purpose. Once the brand is part of a routine, the individual will find comfort in its familiarity and build a connection to the experience. Additionally, if a brand outperforms its competition, it makes sense why the consumer would prefer it within the routine since the outcome creates a greater reward. However, to retain consumer loyalty, the brand must actively work to remain relevant. Checking in to fit the needs of the consumer means a brand must reshape to the new ideals. The brand must evolve to position itself within the habit loops. In consistently having a space in the consumer’s lifestyle, it builds brand confidence. Recalling on past experiences allows consumers to depend on a brand, proving in each purchase brand experience is worth the cost. 

References:

Berkman, E. (2018). The Neuroscience of Goals and Behavior Change. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 70(1), 28–44.

Brakus, J. J., Schmitt, B. H., & Zarantonello, L. (2009). Brand experience: what is it? How is it measured? Does it affect loyalty?. Journal of Marketing73(3), 52-68.

Chaudhuri, A., & Holbrook, M. B. (2001). The chain of effects from brand trust and brand affect to brand performance: The role of brand loyalty. Journal of Marketing, 65(2), 81-93.

Keane, M. M., Cruz, M. E., & Verfaellie, M. (2015). Attention and implicit memory: priming-induced benefits and costs have distinct attentional requirements. Memory & cognition43(2), 216-225.

Muthukrishnan, A. V., Wathieu, L., & Xu, A. J. (2009). Ambiguity aversion and the preference for established brands. Management Science55(12), 1933-1941.

van der Westhuizen, L. M. (2018). Brand loyalty: exploring self-brand connection and brand experience. Journal of Product & Brand Management.

Wise, R. A. (2004). Dopamine, learning and motivation. Nature reviews neuroscience5(6), 483-494.

Wood, W., Tam, L., & Witt, M. G. (2005). Changing circumstances, disrupting habits. Journal of personality and social psychology, 88(6), 918.

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ilV7PU7fcY ).

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.  

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If you are interested in learning more about this neuropolitical research, please contact Allison Gutkowski (Allison.Gutkowski@hcdi.net).