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How should you do a neuromarketing test? I’m increasingly being asked whether the scales from the Emotiv EPOC Affective™ Suite system can be used to assess cognitive and emotional responses in e.g. customers. After all, it would be really appealing if we could use a full box set with responses such as Engagement, Meditation, Frustration and Excitement. I also see that some new up and coming companies use this system more or less from the box. After all, who wouldn’t just pay $5,000 for a neuromarketing study rather than the more expensive studies that require whole teams and specialists?

I use the Emotiv system myself for many of my studies. For recording EEG it works well. But when it comes to their emotional scales, the truth is that they are, at best, just a black box with many unknowns. Quite realistically, it’s more like a can of worms.

From one of my own data, it’s easy to check whether the Emotiv scales are distinct. They are produced very nicely through the export function in iMotions’ Attention Tool – the best scalable neuromarketing suite I know and can think of. Best of all, it allows export of time-synced raw EEG data, along with data from eye-tracking, GSR, facial coding and much more.

So how do the Emotiv scales fare? Let’s take the example from “Meditation” and “Frustration”. After all, we should expect that scores for “Meditation” would be quite different from “Frustration” scores, right? Well, the truth is that these scales are highly correlated:


So unless you think that meditation is really about frustration (it may be to some…), you should be skeptical towards the Emotiv scales. Some of the other scales seem to fare better, such as the Engagement score. My own studies so far suggest that the Engagement score is related to working memory load, but this is indeed still a heterogenous construct, and much too premature to draw any conclusions. I do not yet know how specific Engagement scores are to working memory…and should it then be called “Engagement”?

The basic problem remains, however, that the Emotiv system is still a black box solution, and more or less impossible to determine how the scales are made. And to be honest, I would not trust a 22-year old graduate who has taken a course or two on neuroscience, nor any company using the Emotiv solution up front. Just in the same way I would not trust the same persons to perform my bypass surgery or repair my car. And yes, you may call it ad hominem attacks, but in the tradition of science this is how it is. When you speak bullshit, you are called a bullshitter.

As you can guess, I am not a proponent of black boxing, particularly not in neuromarketing where we should be able to converge on the same solutions. Quite the contrary. I simply do not understand the need for secrecy among neuromarketing companies. The science is already out there, so why make up new scales? It opens up the possibility of cheating, snake oil production and what is less. Think about the strategic blunders that may be made based on erroneous and unscientific hand waving.

If you want to do neuromarketing studies, make sure you do it right from the beginning. There is already too much hype and BS in this industry, so let’s start being self-corrective.


neuro-marketing-conceptI was compelled to reply to a blog post at ESOMAR, as seen here, and would like to share the comment here, with a few additions:

  • Neuromarketing is not a unique and novel application of neuroscience outside it’s domain of origin. Psychology has used neuroscience for decades now, aka neuropsychology, and with great success in understanding and predicting behaviour. Neuroscience and physiology was the very part of the origin of psychology since the times of Fechner and Wundt more than a century ago. Why should this not be the case for understanding consumers and communication effects?
  • We understand much more than the basics, but even for the basics, there is much added value. For example 1) knowing where people actually look (we are poor at knowing ourselves); 2) how we respond emotionally (also often unconsciously); and 3) how such initial responses predict likelihood of purchase/click/behaviour-of-choice. These are very straightforward questions that are “easy” to answer with neuroimaging and related measures, and yet can have profound insights to marketers.
  • Whether neuromarketing works is actually not something that should be determined as a beauty contest. It’s an empirical question. Today, we see an increasing number of studies showing that neuromarketing predicts actual behaviour.
  • On criticism from Wilson & Trumpickaite, it is true that many measures are bivalent, i.e. cannot tell us whether an elevated response is due to positive or negative responses. However, novel measures now allow better determination of this; and even for traditional measures, we usually operate in the neutral-to-positive scale, rarely we see customers run away screaming… This means that arousal responses are typically a signal of the positive relevance and appeal that a person ascribes to a stimulus
  • Thinking neuro informs your psychology: the way you use terms such as attention, memory, preference and choice are highly informed by the combined efforts of economics, psychology AND neuroscience. For example, there is solid evidence from neuroscience that we have (at least) two motivational systems with distinct speeds and processes. Not exactly the same as dual process theories, but then again converging evidence as such.
  • Fishy studies abound, but more than anything, this demonstrates an honest appeal to rigorous methodology in neuroimaging measures, not something that is problematic for neuromarketing only. Then again, if we are left with surveys, interviews and focus groups, then let’s take the discussion of validity here, too. We know that is a contentious topic
  • Finally, while neuromarketing comes very much across as an assessment toolbox, it is so much more than this. When used properly, it is a strategic tool to shape the way information is conveyed to the recipients, how a brand is construed, and the way companies communicate. Think of neuromarketing not as something different from marketing, but a new leg to stand on that is based on rock solid science

I may be coloured on this aspect since I have spent the better parts of my life devoted to these questions. But I firmly believe that when we are able to sort out the snake oil and false promises in neuromarketing, and other places where neuro is used, we can focus on the true insights that can be gained. It’s a learning process for all sides, and I find that added value can be made on every step of the way for all participants.


What’s catching your eye when you browse the web? On the highly crowded information highway of the Web, any web page only has a few seconds to attract attention. But how do you know what grabs people’s attention? Doing an eye-tracking experiment will be too time-consuming and costly. Testing a new page layout (or more than one layout per day) each day is virtually impossible.

But as I introduced in my last post, a new tool is now available: it lets you run a quick test of what will grab people’s attention, even (and especially) during brief exposures. eye2D2 is an algorithm based on decades of research in the psychology, neuroscience and psychophysiology of visual processing. The algorithm has been developed and validated on hundreds of images, web pages, ads and more.

So how about testing what parts of today’s news pages are visually magnetic? Which stories will attract more attention based purely on the way they are presented?

Here, I have run four of the most visited news pages on the Web: The Washington Post, The People’s daily, New York Times and the Guardian:

And the results of the analyses are as follows. For the Guardian, we see that the story about how X-rays reveal secret about the Tudor spymaster portrait is the most visually magnetic part of the screen. Equally magnetic, despite it’s relative small size, is the story that McIlroy may sidestep 2016 Olympics.  Other stories, such as Guardian’s dating site, the square-up between Balotelli and Mancini, and that Boehner is re-elected as speaker in US are also expected to gain some extra attention. Click on the image to see a larger version

The Guardian


The next site to be tested is The Washington Post, where the most salient story is the one that FTC finds no evidence that Google favors own service. Two stories also make the top of today’s visual magnetism chart, including the top-left story about Boechner, and the story about McConnell and Biden.

Washington Post


On the New York Times page, one can see that the most visually magnetic news items are the small but salient Offstage and off guard, closely followed by three stories: re-election of Boehner (also here a magnetic story…people will remember this one!), that Hezbollah leader presses Lebanon to act on Syria, and Rolling out a mat, behind barbed wire.

New York Times


Finally, the Chinese newspage People’s Daily has only a single visually magnetic story! It’s the one stating that Black-headed gulls come to Kunming for winter. The menus are relatively salient, and the list of multiple news items would also be expected to generate attention. As this page changes images frequently in loops, it would be advisable to test the different versions, as the actual magnetism changes dynamically with context.

People’s Daily Online

This was a relatively fast and simple demonstration of the utility of how eye2D2 can be used to test multiple complex images, with a rapid turnover and at a low cost compared to traditional eye-tracking and point-click methods. As noted before, the model has proven highly reliable and has a high accuracy compared with eye-tracking data. I will post more about this soon. Keep tuned ;-)


Sample analysis of visual magnetism in an advertisement from Olay. Warmer colours denote more magnetic parts of the image, and are more likely to attract attention.

In an ever increasingly complex and crowded visual environment, what do we actually pay attention to? As all should know by now, visual attention comes in at least two specific forms: bottom-up and top-down.

While top-down attention is typically viewed as volitional, effortful and motivated, bottom-up attention is the term for conditions in which sensory stimuli automatically attract attention. One way to conceptualise this, especially in terms of vision, is visual magnetism. A magnetic item is a piece of information that has specific properties that inherently attract attention more or less automatically. This could be due to intensity, specific colouring, positioning or overt changes in e.g. an image.

Eye-tracking is known to measure visual attention, but part of the limitation of this method is that it has a hard time in disambiguating between top-down and bottom-up attention.

But there is is (obviously) good news: I’ve devised a method that can determine visual magnetism in an image. By relying on decades of research on the visual system – and a decent amount of time gone in testing, adjusting and validating models, I have made an analytic tool that models visual attention to a degree that it is almost spooky.

Yes, you read right: you can now know where people will look, even without testing a single subject.

The method is (somewhat humouristically) labelled eye2D2, and you can go to this page to see more documentation emerging these days.

The model has been tested against eye-tracking studies of many different kinds of images, including ads, outdoor banners, in-store layouts, newspaper layouts, and much much more.

The method has an accuracy that is 80% compared to traditional eye-tracking. It can do the analysis at a fraction of the time (hours) and cost (5 images = $10.000). This is a huge improvement compared to traditional eye-tracking which uses 2-4 weeks (or more) and at a much higher price ($20.000 per image). Even better, since eye2D2 does not remember images, one can run multiple versions/tweaks of the same image

Below you can see some direct comparisons between traditional eye-tracking (left) and the new automatic measure of visual magnetism (right).

Want to know more? Visit www.eye2D2.com or write me an email.


Inline images 1

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Sometimes politicians make claims that may seem at odds with the ideological background they represent. Would you agree with your party if they presented a statement that went against their ideological foundation? Put this way, you would probably not, right?

But in fact, you’d very likely do so. It’s been known for a while that in the face of conflicting information about political ideology and group belonging, people tend to follow their group and dispose of their ideology (at least for a while). Group think comes first.

But how does this happen? Does knowing the party provenance of a statement lead to faster or slower responses? Does knowing that statement X comes from party B make it less or more easy to make up your mind?

In a recent study, we have approached this problem, in which the literature has suggested two opposing proposals. On the one hand, knowing the political party behind a statement could trigger some heuristic that makes decisions easier. On the other hand, knowing the sender could trigger a more complex weighing of the opportunities, leading to an overall more difficult decision process (even though it would only take an additional few milliseconds). In two related studies, we used subjects response time to assess the level of conflict, adhering to prior studies (e.g. this one, PDF)

The article is now in press in Political Behavior, and the title might reveal it all…: “Motivated Reasoning and Political Parties: Evidence for Increased Processing in the Face of Party Cues“. The abstract reads as follows:

Extant research in political science has demonstrated that citizens’ opinions on policies are influenced by their attachment to the party sponsoring them. At the same time, little evidence exists illuminating the psychological processes through which such party cues are filtered. From the psychological literature on source cues, we derive two possible hypotheses: (1) party cues activate heuristic processing aimed at minimizing the processing effort during opinion formation, and (2) party cues activate group motivational processes that compel citizens to support 15 the position of their party. As part of the latter processes, the presence of party cues would make individuals engage in effortful motivated reasoning to produce arguments for the correctness of their party’s position. Following psychological research, we use response latency to measure processing effort and, in support of the motivated reasoning hypothesis, demonstrate that across student and nationally representative samples, the presence of party cues increases processing effort.

The PDF is available from this page.


While work by people such as Diederik Stapel has been deemed fraudulent, research into the effects of contexts on thinking and behavior has almost come to a halt. There has been much skepticism towards whether there are any effects at all. Could it still be the case that context can affect our emotional responses and judgments of specific items? If so, what are the causal mechanisms?

A recent publication from my hand has just come out in the Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology and Economics, and is entitled “Effects of Perceptual Uncertainty on Arousal and Preference Across Different Visual Domains“. The paper describes an interesting finding: simple, unpredictable sounds sequences can affect judgment of simultaneously presented visual materials such as brand logos and abstract art.

The work was inspired by a recent study by Herry et al (2007) which had demonstrated that unpredictable sounds lead to an increased engagement of the amygdala and increased avoidance behavior, both in rodents and humans. The question we were interested in was whether such effects also would hold for more complex stimuli, such as cultural artifacts, including brands.

In the study, we showed either a previously unknown brand logo (either a beer, financial, cosmetic or electronic brand), or a piece of unknown abstract art. One second prior to the image, subjects heard a simple sound sequence that was either in a predictable or an unpredictable manner. Here are two examples:

Here is the predictable sound sequence: 1000 (opens in new window/tab)

And here is an example of an unpredictable sound sequence: 1021 (opens in new window/tab)

The sound started one second before the image and lasted throughout the whole 3-second image presentation. After this, subjects were asked to judge the image.

The results showed that items that were associated with unpredictable sounds received significantly lower ratings than those that were presented with unpredictable sounds.

While this is an interesting effect in itself, we went a step further: we tested whether unpredictable sounds were associated with increased arousal. By measuring pupil dilation using high-resolution eye-tracking, we found that indeed, unpredictable sounds were associated with increased arousal, and related to lower ratings.

Interestingly, this negative relationship between arousal seemed to be related to the first second, that is, when only the sound was present. Once the image got on, there was a positive relationship between pupil dilation response and preference.

This study suggests that contextual “noise” and unpredictability can affect first impressions and judgments of novel stimuli, and that it can do so across different visual domains. Thus, one take-home message would be to avoid contextual unpredictability if you are in need of good first impressions – and who’s not in need of that!



I have recently become aware of the news that a company has patented regional brain responses to “appeal” and “engagement”.

Through the scarcity of the material presented, it is really hard to get an idea of what the patent really entails. But from the sound of it, we are suggested that the patent is about the responses of particular brain regions, and that their responses predict consumer engagement and product/information appeal. If this is the case, it is very disturbing!

What’s more disturbing, is the note about what brain regions we are looking at. The regions implied are the temporal and frontal gyri of the brain. OK, so WHICH frontal gyrus are we talking about? The superior frontal gyrus, the medial frontal gyrus, the inferior frontal gyrus? If the patent says only “frontal gyrus”, we’re talking pretty much the entire frontal cortex! It’s exactly the same thing with the temporal gyrus: do they mean superior, inferior, lateral? If this is the state of patenting, I’m on my way to the patent office to submit a patent for all activations in the brain’s gyrus (patent 1) and the brain’s sulcus (patent 2)…

The way I see it, the patent should only be possible if it has a VERY detailed description of:

  1. the stimuli being used (specific images used, stimulus duration, stimulus order, ISI, jittering etc.)
  2. which MRI scanner specs is used (e.g. a Siemens Trio 3T with 8-channel head coil)
  3. the EPI sequence is being used
  4. preprocessing procedures
  5. 1st and 2nd order analysis (PDF) protocol, and
  6. statistical threshold and method (PDF) for selection of a priori brain region (regions of interest, ROI, protocol).

This would mean that others who use the exact same stimuli and precisely the same procedure should pay the patent owner. But any other scanning protocol, analysis method, use of other stimuli etc etc would be an abuse of the patenting system and should be discarded immediately. You cannot and should never be able to patent the response of a particular brain region – it is the worst case of inverse inference that I would have heard about!

The way I see it, the patent should only be possible if it has a VERY detailed description of:

  1. the stimuli being used (specific images used, stimulus duration, stimulus order, ISI, jittering etc.)
  2. which MRI machine is being used (e.g. a Siemens Trio 3T with 8-channel head coil)
  3. what EPI sequence is being used
  4. preprocessing procedures
  5. 1st and 2nd order analysis protocol
  6. statistical threshold and method for selection of a priori brain region (regions of interest, ROI, protocol).

This would mean that others who use the exact same stimuli and precisely the same procedure should pay the patent owner. But any other scanning protocol, analysis method, use of other stimuli etc etc would be an abuse of the patenting system and should be discarded immediately. You cannot and should never be able to patent the response of a particular brain region – it is the worst case of reverse inference that I would have heard about!


Deepak Chopra has moved into the domain of the brain… and it should come as no surprise that what he claims is not only laughably erroneous, but also deeply misleading and ignoring the vast amounts of data for the view he so eagerly wants to discard.

Why do I even bother? Because I care! I care that people are not misled by what I believe to be baloney!

I jotted a decent reply to Chopra’s recent text at Huff Post, but it was obviously too long for being a comment, so I’m posting it here, hoping that many of you will make it from my direct link at the HP site. Thanks for clicking.

Mr. Chopra,
The level of BS in this assertion is so high that I don’t even know where to start! We now have a whole century (actually, much more, but let’s leave it at that) of evidence providing a very close link between the mind and the brain. I am utterly puzzled at how one can even make such claims as you do, and feel compelled to do some debugging of your text:
  • The starter dish fallacy: The brain does not “light up” – what you see is a statistical representation of the change in signal intensity that (for fMRI scans) represent changes in oxygenated blood, which is an indirect measure of brain activation. Dark regions are still active, but not particularly for the task we have chosen to focus on (or rather, the tasks that researchers have decided to compare). This is a non-trivial distinction, because the link suggested by Chopra to a radio tuning in is simply erroneous. See more below.
  • The big leap of reason is the semantic trick of saying that neuroscientists (including myself) believe that the brain is in charge, and not you… I thought Chopra just agreed that neuroscientists believed that the brain IS you? Actually, most scientists I know believe that the brain and you are indeed the same! What happens in the brain is part of you as an organism, as a person, and often as a sentient being. The activation of hypothalamic nuclei can help control hunger, thermoregulation etc.; the response of the amygdala can help you become aware of specific events; the activation in the medial orbitofrontal cortex does indeed reflect quite closely how much you enjoy reading this paragraph, the taste of that chocolate you’re having (lucky you) or the music you have playing in the background.
  • The great news is: this takes NOTHING away from the wonderful richness of your conscious life! But we understand so much better now HOW it is that the mysterious wet matter of the brain can even produce such magic. And the best part is…no supernatural explanations are yet needed. No need to evoke additional dimensions, pseudoscientific explanations or altogether magical mental bypasses.
  • “Brain activity isn’t the same as thinking, feeling, or seeing”. True enough as a general statement BUT brain activation in regions such as the amygdala, striatum, orbitofrontal cortex and insula ARE equated to emotional responses. Thinking…well that’s too mongrel a concept to start with so our ability to “think twice”, i.e. control our impulses, is well known to be closely related to activation in other brain regions, such as the anterior cingulate cortex and other parts of the prefrontal cortex. And hey, if you suffer a lesion to any of those regions, you DO lose your ability to respond emotionally, control your actions etc. SO instead of infusing wannabe scientific explanations, why not start with the obvious? The brain is the organ of thought and emotions. Just because we have not understand all of it in minute detail, this explanation exceeds and outperforms any other alternative explanation by zillions of miles!
  • “No one has remotely shown how molecules acquire the qualities of the mind”… I don’t even know what that statement means. Obviously, nobody have ever proven the mind to exist outside the brain. Our best guess is…the mind and the brain is the same thing! I’ve seen far too many neurology patients (and psychiatric for that matter) to believe that the brain is not the culprit.
  • “It is impossible to construct a theory of the mind based on material objects that somehow became conscious.” I love the “impossible” statement here. See, this argument goes straight in the face of your own claim: if you believe that there is an immaterial mind and a material brain, and there is no interaction between them, you’re in BIG trouble. Why do we talk about the brain at all, then? Why does a lesion to the brain in any way lead to a change in the mind? How can I physically simulate your brain using electrodes and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation and make your hand move, make you partially blind for a split second, or alter your social decision? Your claims must be backed up with facts. Claims are not facts!
  • Radio analogy: this is just a pretty darn good example that your choice of analogy is wrong, and not that there is anything wrong with how we view the brain!
So it is NOT a massive struggle to neuroscientists to “see those flaws”. Indeed, I do see the flaws, but as I’ve put out above, the flaws are on you, Mr. Chopra. Please consult a neuroscientist next time, I’d be happy to discuss this at any time!
Sincerely, and with my mindful brain intact
Thomas Zoëga Ramsøy, PhD & neuropsychologist

A recent post at Neuroskeptic discusses whether neuroimaging studies may provide a misleading picture of the brain. The issue is made relevant due to recent studies that demonstrate that for simple tasks, the brains were more or less globally active:

Both studies found that pretty much the whole brain “lit up” when people are doing simple tasks. In one case it was seeing videos of people’s faces, in the other it was deciding whether stimuli on the screen were letters or numbers.

The big surprise – should we take their word for granted – is that the whole brain is active whenever people do these simple tasks, and that it most likely only can be found when looking at a lot of people (most studies use around 20 people in fMRI studies).

There are several problems with this “big problem”, and just to name a few:

  • Task unrelated images and thoughts (TUITs) and Mind wandering: since the 60s and 70s, psychology has studied what happens whenever people are relaxing, or doing very repetitive tasks. These studies uncovered that these states were highly active, not “passive” in any sense. This fact seems to have been forgotten in so many studies on the brain’s “default mode” and “resting state”, which surprisingly has uncovered increased activation in a number of widespread brain regions for “less” active tasks. Thus, having your subjects doing a highly repetitive – and even very boring – task is related to mind wandering. That such an active state would produce large-scale activation throughout the brain should come as no surprise.
  • The conscious brain: being conscious about something seems to be related to large-scale “global” activation in the brain, including the parietal, prefrontal, temporal cortices along with structures such as the thalamus. Should we be surprised that such regions are largely activated when 1.000+ subjects are scanned while conscious?
  • Individual differences: yes, even large individual differences between subjects may – when you are testing 1.000+ people – provide the false impression of a general large-scale activation of the brain “in all people”

So I don’t buy it: I think we can trust the fMRI data we have thus far. There are many challenges in using these measures, and many studies fall prey to a lot of the validity, reliability and sanity checks one can (and should) apply. But the purported problem by Neuroskeptic is, IMO, misfiring.


OK here goes. A brief time ago we recorded real-time EEG while a person walked and shopped in a grocery store. An abbreviated version of the movie can be seen here.

As you can see, besides the large frame showing what the person is oriented towards (although there is no eye-tracking) the smaller right hand frame displays a flurry of brain activation. Basically, this shows alpha-band activation, and the source localization is done by algorithms on a Nokia N900 smartphone.

The aim of this movie was a proof-of-concept approach. We were able to demonstrate that we can use this approach, we have sufficient signal for appropriate analysis, and at  the same time we made some nice public appearance in the Danish national broadcast company.

Now, the time is ready for more scrutinizing research, and through coming blog posts, I will let you in on this approach. Basically, although we were able to make cool brain signals in the store, there are still many important issues to be resolved, including:

  • finding a suitable set-up – this is probably the smalles of problems; one could compare different conditions (picking an object and putting it down again vs picking an object and putting it in the basket), or even states (women’s level of alpha band activation while in the grocery store vs the shoe store…)
  • minimizing noise – although much can be done with noise reduction algorithms, there is still a need for starting off with a stationary set-up with a higher degree of control over signals, and then move out of the lab
  • identifying neural predictors of …. (purchase, attention, memory, … fill in the blanks) – also done best first in the lab, and then moved into the mobile settings
  • being creative – the tool can be used for so much more than in-store decisions. Imaging using it at the museum, at the casino, when driving a car, for patients studies, at the trading floor….!!!!


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