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Top 5 things Learned by Applying Biometrics

With new developments in methodologies and tools, biometric research has become increasingly popularized. Through different biometric tools, researchers can measure participants' emotional reactions and better understand the decision-making process.

Editor’s Note: Biometric techniques have grown in use over the past decade. While there are a number of different techniques that fall under the rubric, they tend to be “technology-intensive” , which limits their use. Here, Hamish Asser discusses a more “consumer-friendly” approach to biometric measurement and the benefits it gives.


The last 5 years in market research have seen a transformational use of technology. From virtual reality panels to Facebook polling, there has been a development in the tools and techniques to get to the truth of what respondents really think and feel. Research often captures the rational responses of individuals; however, a lot of human behavior is driven by human emotions. 

Biometric research looks at the subconscious processes related to attention, emotional and physiological arousal. Biometric research enables businesses to really understand its audiences by combining neuroscience and market research in order to view the bigger picture. There are different biometric tools researchers can use eye tracking and facial expression analysis, electroencephalography (EEG), electrocardiography (ECG) and galvanic skin response (GSR). Using biometric research allows for the way people feel and the context in which they make their decisions to be recorded. 

How GSR Works

GSR tracks the user’s engagement journey in real-time, measuring emotional arousal and stress. The data is passed over to a real-time data dashboard, from which the data can be analyzed. Populus conducted the world’s first-ever in-home biometric study of a live event, on behalf of Formula 1 who needed an effective way of tracking real-time engagement in order to optimize their content. 

For the individual on the panel, they can watch the content in the comfort of their own home with the small device simply attached to their hand. Respondents are also given an app to capture their reported responses before and after the event. Data from the app, as well as the device, can be mapped in tandem. 

By allowing the respondent to take part in their own home means the survey is kept in context rather than in a laboratory where the individual would find themselves in a very controlled environment. This then gives a much more realistic read. In addition, large numbers of sensors can be sent out for home-based surveys whereas only a certain number of people can be in a lab at a given point. 

Respondent feedback confirms high levels of viewer engagement: 97% of respondents would be interested in doing another biometric survey. From the image below, you can see that many respondents said it wasn’t only easy to use a device in a survey, but it was more fun to carry out a survey in this manner. 

Five Benefits of Using GSR in Market Research

1. Removes the need for respondent participation

Respondents simply adjust the biometric sensor on their fingertips, sit back and enjoy the content. The natural feedback mechanism of the biometric sensor means the user doesn’t have to do anything with the equipment. There are no wires and respondents can sit in their natural environment meaning real-world responses are captured. 

2. It taps into people’s innermost reactions

GSR measures how the autonomic nervous system (the control system that regulates the internal organs without any conscious recognition or effort) responds to timely stimuli. GSR signals are taken from the palm of the hand which happens to be one of the best regions on the human body for these physiological signals. In F1’s case, they could gauge the emotional impact of the content as it happened, rather than with pre or post surveys which wouldn’t give the granular data F1 needed. The data recorded peak interests and key moments of impact which allowed F1 to tailor their future broadcasts to what the viewer actually wanted to see

3. It can be translated into real-time, second-by-second basis data

At the backend, the data received is automatically analyzed and the emotional impact reports are generated within an interactive dashboard – allowing you to see results on a second-by-second basis via a biometric trace line. In F1’s case, as displayed in the image below, they could trace the user’s engagement journey and pinpoint where the engagement levels peaked or dipped and match it with the content that was being shown. We can see this user was very disengaged around the opening credits, but as soon as the race started, where the content can be the most engaging as racers fight to get to the front, the viewer’s engagement level peaked.

4. It offers the bigger picture

These large data sets can then be analyzed to reveal patterns, trends, and associations relating to human behavior allowing clients to uncover areas of optimization at a micro level – so in F1’s case, as you can see in the image below, they could look at peaks and dips in engagement across the race, explore what unique camera angles are most engaging, what type of commentary has a positive impact, how & when team radio can be best utilized and the decay effect of using replays. These learnings can be used to ensure future broadcasting formats are tailored to truly deliver on what grabs and holds the attention of the viewer over the course of the race. 

5. It removes the presence of post-rationalism

Using biometrics in market research allows researchers to capture and track the implicit emotional journeys that we all go on whenever we consume media. The best way to understand people’s emotional response to something is to capture it passively, in-the-moment and remove the possibility for bias and a reliance on post-rationalism. 

The GSR biometric study shows that biometrics can be successfully applied in a cost-effective, accurate and large-scale way within surveys. After the event has occurred relying on respondent’s recall can result in rational responses, however, biometrics picks up the respondent’s unconscious in-the-moment reactions. By delivering large data sets that can be analyzed to reveal patterns and trends in human behavior at a micro-level, the use of biometrics in market research paves the way for a greater understanding of content engagement, over a range of periods of time.

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Hamish Asser

Hamish Asser

Director of Brand & Comms Research, Populus