Tag Archives: media

Our connection to content

Using neuroscience tools, Innerscope Research explores the connections between consumers and media.

By Rob Matheson

It’s often said that humans are wired to connect: The neural wiring that helps us read the emotions and actions of other people may be a foundation for human empathy.

But for the past eight years, MIT Media Lab spinout Innerscope Research has been using neuroscience technologies that gauge subconscious emotions by monitoring brain and body activity to show just how powerfully we also connect to media and marketing communications.

“We are wired to connect, but that connection system is not very discriminating. So while we connect with each other in powerful ways, we also connect with characters on screens and in books, and, we found, we also connect with brands, products, and services,” says Innerscope’s chief science officer, Carl Marci, a social neuroscientist and former Media Lab researcher.

With this core philosophy, Innerscope — co-founded at MIT by Marci and Brian Levine MBA ’05 — aims to offer market research that’s more advanced than traditional methods, such as surveys and focus groups, to help content-makers shape authentic relationships with their target consumers.

“There’s so much out there, it’s hard to make something people will notice or connect to,” Levine says. “In a way, we aim to be the good matchmaker between content and people.”

So far, it’s drawn some attention. The company has conducted hundreds of studies and more than 100,000 content evaluations with its host of Fortune 500 clients, which include Campbell’s Soup, Yahoo, and Fox Television, among others.

And Innerscope’s studies are beginning to provide valuable insights into the way consumers connect with media and advertising. Take, for instance, its recent project to measure audience engagement with television ads that aired during the Super Bowl.

Innerscope first used biometric sensors to capture fluctuations in heart rate, skin conductance, breathing, and motion among 80 participants who watched select ads and sorted them into “winning” and “losing” commercials (in terms of emotional responses). Then their collaborators at Temple University’s Center for Neural Decision Making used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans to further measure engagement.

Ads that performed well elicited increased neural activity in the amygdala (which drives emotions), superior temporal gyrus (sensory processing), hippocampus (memory formation), and lateral prefrontal cortex (behavioral control).

“But what was really interesting was the high levels of activity in the area known as the precuneus — involved in feelings of self-consciousness — where it is believed that we keep our identity. The really powerful ads generated a heightened sense of personal identification,” Marci says.

Using neuroscience to understand marketing communications and, ultimately, consumers’ purchasing decisions is still at a very early stage, Marci admits — but the Super Bowl study and others like it represent real progress. “We’re right at the cusp of coherent, neuroscience-informed measures of how ad engagement works,” he says.

Capturing “biometric synchrony”

Innerscope’s arsenal consists of 10 tools: Electroencephalography and fMRI technologies measure brain waves and structures. Biometric tools — such as wristbands and attachable sensors — track heart rate, skin conductance, motion, and respiration, which reflect emotional processing. And then there’s eye-tracking, voice-analysis, and facial-coding software, as well as other tests to complement these measures.

Such technologies were used for market research long before the rise of Innerscope. But, starting at MIT, Marci and Levine began developing novel algorithms, informed by neuroscience, that find trends among audiences pointing to exact moments when an audience is engaged together — in other words, in “biometric synchrony.”

Traditional algorithms for such market research would average the responses of entire audiences, Levine explains. “What you get is an overall level of arousal — basically, did they love or hate the content?” he says. “But how is that emotion going to be useful? That’s where the hole was.”

Innerscope’s algorithms tease out real-time detail from individual reactions — comprising anywhere from 500 million to 1 billion data points — to locate instances when groups’ responses (such as surprise, excitement, or disappointment) collectively match.

As an example, Levine references an early test conducted using an episode of the television show “Lost,” where a group of strangers are stranded on a tropical island.

Levine and Marci attached biometric sensors to six separate groups of five participants. At the long-anticipated moment when the show’s “monster” is finally revealed, nearly everyone held their breath for about 10 to 15 seconds.

“What our algorithms are looking for is this group response. The more similar the group response, the more likely the stimuli is creating that response,” Levine explains. “That allows us to understand if people are paying attention and if they’re going on a journey together.”

Getting on the map

Before MIT, Marci was a neuroscientist studying empathy, using biometric sensors and other means to explore how empathy between patient and doctor can improve patient health.

“I was lugging around boxes of equipment, with wires coming out and videotaping patients and doctors. Then someone said, ‘Hey, why don’t you just go to the MIT Media Lab,’” Marci says. “And I realized it had the resources I needed.”

At the Media Lab, Marci met behavioral analytics expert and collaborator Alexander “Sandy” Pentland, the Toshiba Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, who helped him set up Bluetooth sensors around Massachusetts General Hospital to track emotions and empathy between doctors and patients with depression.

During this time, Levine, a former Web developer, had enrolled at MIT, splitting his time between the MIT Sloan School of Management and the Media Lab. “I wanted to merge an idea to understand customers better with being able to prototype anything,” he says.

After meeting Marci through a digital anthropology class, Levine proposed that they use this emotion-tracking technology to measure the connections of audiences to media. Using prototype sensor vests equipped with heart-rate monitors, stretch receptors, accelerometers, and skin-conductivity sensors, they trialed the technology with students around the Media Lab.

All the while, Levine pieced together Innerscope’s business plan in his classes at MIT Sloan, with help from other students and professors. “The business-strategy classes were phenomenal for that,” Levine says. “Right after finishing MIT, I had a complete and detailed business plan in my hands.”

Innerscope launched in 2006. But a 2008 study really accelerated the company’s growth. “NBC Universal had a big concern at the time: DVR,” Marci says. “Were people who were watching the prerecorded program still remembering the ads, even though they were clearly skipping them?”

Innerscope compared facial cues and biometrics from people who fast-forwarded ads against those who didn’t. The results were unexpected: While fast-forwarding, people stared at the screen blankly, but their eyes actually caught relevant brands, characters, and text. Because they didn’t want to miss their show, while fast-forwarding, they also had a heightened sense of engagement, signaled by leaning forward and staring fixedly.

“What we concluded was that people don’t skip ads,” Marci says. “They’re processing them in a different way, but they’re still processing those ads. That was one of those insights you couldn’t get from a survey. That put us on the map.”

Today, Innerscope is looking to expand. One project is bringing kiosks to malls and movie theaters, where the company recruits passersby for fast and cost-effective results. (Wristbands monitor emotional response, while cameras capture facial cues and eye motion.) The company is also aiming to try applications in mobile devices, wearables, and at-home sensors.

“We’re rewiring a generation of Americans in novel ways and moving toward a world of ubiquitous sensing,” Marci says. “We’ll need data science and algorithms and experts that can make sense of all that data.”


Source : MIT News Office


In her long career teaching writing and rhetoric, Andrea Lunsford became increasingly intrigued by the many forms in which students write. (Photo: Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service)

From Twitter to Kickstarter, Stanford English professor says the digital revolution is changing what it means to be an author

Stanford English Professor Andrea Lunsford says today’s writing instruction should teach students how to become better writers for social media and other interactive online environments.



Between LOLs, emoticons and 140-character rants, it may seem like digital communication has only served to stunt young people’s writing abilities.

In her long career teaching writing and rhetoric, Andrea Lunsford became increasingly intrigued by the many forms in which students write. (Photo: Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service)
In her long career teaching writing and rhetoric, Andrea Lunsford became increasingly intrigued by the many forms in which students write. (Photo: Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service)

But according to Stanford English professor and rhetorician Andrea Lunsford, students today are writing more than ever before – just in forms unseen or unacknowledged in writing instruction.

The former director of Stanford’s Program in Writing and Rhetoric, Lunsford said that in today’s world of instant online publication, anyone can potentially have their written work distributed to a wide audience.

“Turn on your computer, write a blog post – and you’re an author,” said Lunsford, the Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor, Emerita.

The co-author of the digital-age writing guide Everyone’s an Author, Lunsford said that students are “writing more today than they ever have in the history of the world, and it’s because of social media.” Students themselves “may think it’s not writing, but it is writing, and it’s important writing,” said Lunsford.

Everyone’s an Author includes samples and instruction on how to write online reviews, project proposals, articles on health policy and even Wikipedia articles. Lunsford wants to teach students about writing that makes things happen and is “growing and living.”

Lunsford has authored several widely used writing guides. But with Everyone’s an Author, Lunsford and her co-authors Lisa Ede, Beverly J. Moss, Carole Clark Papper and Keith Walters wanted to provide an alternative to typical writing instruction that “seemed to assume an audience of middle-class, white students that are monolingual and who were writing still on paper.”

The co-authors, English, writing and linguistics professors, developed a textbook that assumed “multilingual, multimodal, multimedia discourse and students of extraordinarily varied linguistic and cultural backgrounds.”

In addition to the more traditional writing forms addressed in other writing texts, such as the academic research essay, the co-authors placed emphasis on areas often overlooked in writing instruction. Their text shows students how to write effectively on media-sharing and crowd-sourcing platforms by integrating words and images and other types of multimedia communication.

For example, a chapter on “Designing What You Write” helps students think about their genre, audience, context, medium and other concerns before making stylistic choices like color schemes, infographics and video and other such narrative tools that are not typically discussed in a writing class.

Lunsford wants today’s writing instruction to challenge assumptions about who is authorized to communicate and in what ways.

“With web 2.0 came participatory experiences by the billions. Young people today are not content to sit back and just consume – swallow – what’s been thought and written in the past 2,500 years. They want to produce things themselves,” said Lunsford.

Teaching the hybrid medium

Lunsford, who has taught writing and rhetoric courses for four decades, became increasingly intrigued by the many forms in which students write while examining the results of the Stanford Study of Writing. The study centered on over 15,000 pieces of writing from 2001 to 2005, produced by a random sampling of undergraduates for assignments in and outside of class and which showed that students were writing across a wide variety of genres.

According to Lunsford, the students preferred to talk about the writing they were doing outside of class.

“They would wax eloquent about a newsletter they were putting out for temporary workers at Stanford, for instance,” Lunsford said, “but only spend a couple of minutes talking about their IHUM [Introduction to the Humanities] assignments,” which were formal academic papers.

Lunsford saw some of this enthusiastic, socially engaged student writing when she recently taught in a Semester at Sea. In the study abroad program sponsored by the University of Virginia, more than 600 students from all over the world sailed around the world while studying college-level courses.

Lunsford said her students got excited about writing for purposes they initiated, like using web-based programs to address issues in countries they visited: One group of students built a website to raise funds for an inexpensive homemade water-purifying device, while another group started a Kickstarter campaign that within a month raised enough money for a young man in Ghana to attend college for a year.

“He’s now in his junior year at the university funded by this group of kids who just got online and started writing,” Lunsford said. “So that’s what I mean when I say there are profound ways in which authorship is happening on the web through social media and other things like Kickstarter campaigns.”

The authors give students examples of how to represent themselves or their causes on platforms like Facebook or Twitter. They suggest amplifying a status update with a “rhetorically arranged” photo, or with special attention to audience and tone – elements that can carry over to academic writing. The authors explain how a convincing Yelp review reflects research skills like how one observes and collects evidence.

Students are now more adept at using different media.

“Students today are capable of producing those forms,” Lunsford said. “Students want to make little films for an assignment. They want to draw a comic.”

Lunsford advocates including graphic narratives in pedagogy and is fascinated by their innovative combinations of image and text. Comics are represented in Everyone’s an Author, as well as in Lunsford’s courses. She finds the hybrid medium works to “engage with our brains in different ways.”

Quality control

The often collaborative nature of multimedia texts and the digital writing environment reinforces Lunsford’s belief that no writing is truly solitary. The rhetorician points out that even the comments we write in response to online articles are miniature, interactive, published compositions.

The authors point out that students today “write and research not just to report or analyze but to join conversations. With the click of a mouse they can respond to a Washington Post blog, publishing their views alongside those of the Post writer.”

One might question where quality control and ethical responsibility come into play. Internet “trolling” and various form of aggressive, hateful speech are all too common these days.

Lunsford explains that in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric, the instructors define rhetoric as “the art, theory and practice of ethical communication,” with emphasis on the word ethical. “We are responsible for what we write and say,” Lunsford said.

She added that when it comes to quality, “the buck stops with you in some ways. If you’re not trying to control your own quality, you’re expecting other people to do it for you. I think that’s a big cop-out.”

That shift in editorial control is part of the contemporary reality of writing.

“Young people today,” she said, “want not just their voices to be heard. They want some control and some authority – some authorship.”

Angela Becerra Vidergar, who received her doctorate in comparative literature from Stanford in 2013, writes about the Humanities at Stanford.

Source: Stanford University