Next Gen Research is and What it isn’t? – Biometric Research

August 19, 2009
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As part of the series of posts on what Next Gen Market Research is and what it isn’t and what place it has in consumer research I thought I would start out by taking a look at what place biometric technology should have in consumer research. Specifically things like MRI’s, Lie detectors, eye tracking & pupil dilation equipment…

Today I’m talking to my associate Ryan Brown who has a background in anthropology as well as psychology (See Bio at bottom).

TOM: Ryan, there’s a lot of talk lately about biometric/neurological research. How useful is this, are we going too far? Is it too intrusive? Should we really strap people down and put sensors on their foreheads etc…?

RYAN: I am actually quite a big fan of biometric research, but with the following caveat – the biological indicators under consideration should be closely studied with respect to how accurately they predict behavior. For example, we can spend painstaking hours coding videos of facial expressions or use electrodes to obtain measurements of the activation of facial muscles generally associated with positive or negative effect. This can certainly get us a very accurate read of expressed emotion, but how closely is


As part of the series of posts on what Next Gen Market Research is and what it isn’t and what place it has in consumer research I thought I would start out by taking a look at what place biometric technology should
have in consumer research. Specifically things like MRI’s, Lie detectors, eye tracking & pupil dilation equipment…

Today I’m talking to my associate Ryan Brown who has a background in anthropology as well as psychology (See Bio at bottom).

TOM: Ryan, there’s a lot of talk lately about biometric/neurological research. How useful is this, are we going too far? Is it too intrusive? Should we really strap people down and put sensors on their foreheads etc…?

RYAN: I am actually quite a big fan of biometric research, but with the following caveat – the biological indicators under consideration should be closely studied with respect to how accurately they predict behavior. For example, we can spend painstaking hours coding videos of facial expressions or use electrodes to obtain measurements of the activation of facial muscles generally associated with positive or negative effect. This can certainly get us a very accurate read of expressed emotion, but how closely is expressed emotion actually associated with, say, the propensity to purchase a certain product?
That is a much more complex matter, and one that is often not as well laid out in biometric or physiological research.

The key with biometric experimental paradigms, in my opinion, is to create studies that accurately portray the real-world situations in which the researcher is interested; for example, driving accurately under stressful conditions, shooting a target but not innocent bystanders, choosing one brand over another, etc. If such an experimental paradigm is developed, then individual differences in physiological responses can be quite informative. For example, recent research has indicated that Navy Seals have different patterns of brain activation in response to threatening faces than regular armed service personnel.
Such data is useful, as it might help with testing procedures to pre-screen personnel who could be particularly effective in certain types of combat situations.

In the end, the researcher needs to stay focused on the behavior or outcome they are trying to predict or alter. It is all too easy to get caught up in the excitement of being able to peer “under the skin,”
and observe the multiple (endless, really) physiological systems that are involved in cognition, emotion, and behavior. The key question to ask is, “will these biological indicators give me additional predictive leverage or information about the outcomes in which I am interested?” Often, biological indicators are useful for detecting individual differences (as in the Navy Seal example above). Unless one is interested in subgroup effects on purchasing, marketing researchers might not always be interested in such individual differences and the intricacies of their biological roots; the bottom line is instead whether a certain marketing strategy increases purchasing behavior in the market on average.

Often, we simply don’t have the data to know how well biometric indicators are linked with actual behavioral propensities. However, these data are slowly accumulating. Biometric research has a lot to add, but it is still in its infancy. Like any research tool, it should be used with caution, and continual attention to “real world”
behaviors.


Dr. Ryan A. Brown – Senior Consultant Anthropology & Psychology
Ryan is an anthropologist with training in human biology and
public health. His primary research focus is on the evolutionary,
biological, and cultural roots of risk-taking behavior.

Brown spent three years studying the lives of Cherokee and White young
adults in the Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina, and has
published several articles on this topic. Turning his research more
broadly to population health during a postdoctoral fellowship with the
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Brown also conducted research on
physiological and emotional responses to social threat.

He is also an expert in youth research having worked with Anderson Analytics’ GenX2Z to study trends and behaviors of White, Hispanic, and Asian youth in the US.

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Link to original postTom H. C. Anderson – Anderson Analytics

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