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By using advanced technology, we can let our clients literally see through the eyes of consumers who visit a website or use an app. We use a wide variety of technological tools, that can be roughly divided in three types: eye tracking, facial coding, and EEG neuro research. In this article, we’ll talk about the latter two.

Facial coding

Facial coding is a simple way to gain more insight into the emotional responses users have. The nice thing about this tool is that it enables our researcher to find out which base emotions users experience in a less intrusive way. The setup of this type of study is divided into three steps. First, the camera registers a user’s face. Then, the camera identifies the most important facial points, such as a person’s mouth and eyes. Finally, the camera establishes the facial movements and facial structure. Facial Coding then provides insight into the following elements:

7 base emotions:

joy, anger, surprise, fear, contempt, sadness, and disgust


positive, negative, and neutral feelings

Emotion channels:

smile, eyebrow frown, frown, lowering of lip corner, inner eyebrow movement, closing of eyes, nose wrinkle, raising upper lip, lip sucking, puckering lips, opening mouth, chin up, and raising the lip corner.

33 facial orientation points:

so-called ‘feature points’

Head orientation:

pitch, yaw, and roll angles in a 3D space

Interocular distance:

distance between the two outer eye corners

Emotional involvement

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Neuro research (EEG testing)

Neuro research is used more and more often to test, among other things, websites, movies, stores, tv commercials, packaging, and marketing displays. Testing these media or displays is done by means of an EEG machine. EEG is an abbreviation of Electroencephalography, and is a way to study brain activity. By using neuro research, we’re able to separate the conscious from the subconscious. The way we experience things is always processed in two ways in our brain (system 1 and system 2).
System 1 is fast, instinctive, and driven by emotion.
System 2 is slower, cognitive, and based on logic.

With neuro research, you test the system-1 thinking. That, then, is what distinguishes neuro research from traditional usability research, because traditional research in interview setting focuses more on system-2 thinking.

How does WUA work with neuro research?

To measure brain activity, you don’t need an elaborate, expensive MRI scan in the hospital: we can in fact do this in our own Next Level Usability Lab in Amsterdam. At WUA, we use an Enobio 8 EEG. This is a cap that’s placed over a participant’s head. There are seven electrodes on the cap that measure the activity happening inside the brain. There’s an eighth electrode as well, called the DRL/CMS electrode. This is attached to or behind the ear with a medical plaster. You can compare this with connecting a lamp, for example. The seven electrodes are the blue wire, and the DRL/CMS is the red wire – and the head is the lamp that the energy runs through. The circle has to be complete in order to get a strong signal. Then, we look at the activity in the different areas of the brain.

Neuro research requires an extensive analysis to reach concrete conclusions. Simply looking at brain waves is fun and exciting, but doesn’t offer reliable insights. To make proper analyses, it’s important that the data are run through a large database first. There, we benchmark the individual participant with the database and draw our conclusions from that. This gives us a very reliable image of what the results mean.

What types of insights does the neuro research truly offer?

With our neuro research, we see where emotion comes into play in a customer journey. Simply put, we see this in spikes in the activity of the right side of the brain (system 1). When consumers are drawn to system-1 thinking, they think less about whether something makes sense or not, because they’re now driven by emotion. An example: if a pop-up on tells the consumer “There’s only one room left!”, it activates our system-1 thinking: “Panic! I have to make a quick decision!” The message ensures urgency, which makes us book faster without looking around on other website first. This pop-up is a way to induce emotion, and make the consumer act.

It’s also possible to want to prevent emotion in the customer journey. When using a complicated calculation tool for mortgages, for instance. You want the consumer to go through the process as smoothly as possible, without having to search, without experiencing stress. It’s good to measure those emotional, stress-inducing moments. Combine this with A/B testing, and we’ll know exactly in which way these stressful moments can be relieved.

Approach and avoidance

We also measure approach and avoidance. In other words: are people open to what you’re offering them on your website, or would they prefer to leave? We’ll see, for example, whether visitors feel a form on a website looks attractive (approach) or whether they’d prefer not to fill it in, and instead, wish to leave (avoidance).

You can ask consumers questions, running the risk a respondent says: “It doesn’t look good, but it works, so I guess it’s fine.” The conclusion – ‘it’s good enough, so we don’t have to adjust anything in the form’ – can be reached quite easily, while in reality, it does affect the conversion when we’re looking at large numbers. And by reducing avoidance, conversion will eventually rise. With the EEG, we can see exactly where in the customer journey this happens.

Value of facial coding combined with EEG

With facial coding, we measure the activity of facial muscles and muscle groups. A camera registers the face and the supporting computer algorithms identify characteristics that we can analyze. We can then find out which emotions someone experiences by analyzing facial expressions. Although facial coding is a good way to measure emotional valence through facial movements, it doesn’t provide a deeper analysis of the emotional state, or a person’s mood. Facial coding doesn’t see the difference between true joy, a hysterical mood, or a fake laugh – as opposed to an EEG, which measures a global emotional state and is therefore difficult to consciously control. This way, we’ll gain deeper insight into what respondents feel when they visit your website or use your application. By combining facial coding and EEG, you can see whether the facial expression matches what’s happening in the brain.

Want to know what facial coding and EEG in usability research can mean for your company? Contact us!