Startup’s stress sensor tracks users’ unconscious responses to products and experiences.
Much of consumer neurological testing focuses on gauging consumers’ responses to what they see and hear. But consumer responses are not black and white, like or dislike. In fact, people experience a wide range of emotions in response to products and experiences. Shoppers may become initially excited by certain brands, but then become overwhelmed by choices and lose interest; viewers may become frustrated, bored and entertained in the course of watching a single video. Now, MIT Media Lab spinout mPath has developed a way to measure the exact moment when consumers feel these subconscious responses. Their work allows companies and organisations to better refine their products and services to match consumer expectations. According to mPath founder and CEO Elliot Hedman, “Right now, companies struggle to understand their customers’ emotional needs or wants. But if we listen a little to consumer emotions, there’s a lot of room for innovation.”
To collect data, the startup created the MOXO sensor – a wearable that looks like a bulky smartwatch. The sensor wirelessly measures changes in skin conductance (small electrical changes across the skin), which reflect different types of activity in the wearers’ nervous system. Spikes in conductance can signal stress or frustration, while dips may indicate disinterest or boredom. To gain a more accurate picture of consumers’ responses to specific stimuli, mPath combines the MOXO with eye-tracking glasses or cameras, to identify where a person was looking at the exact moment of an emotional spike or dip. The resulting approach, dubbed ‘emototyping’, creates a more in-depth, precise emotional profile of consumers than previous forms of market research. It is especially useful when studying children, as it can be difficult for children to describe what they feel.
In addition to retail studies, the system has been used to help engage new audiences in classical music, and to track peoples’ fear levels throughout different parts of a haunted house. The company is also working with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America to develop methods to encourage reading by better understanding when children feel overwhelmed by reading. In the future, Hedman sees the MOXO as a potentially useful tool to help therapists understand what children with autism are feeling, and to allow educationalists to design curriculum and classroom experiences that are more engaging. The MOXO and mPath join other consumer neuroscience innovations such as an AI marketing tool that provides detailed analytics and a cooking app that helps convince kids to eat more healthily. What other uses could the MOXO have for helping children and retail companies?