Emotional understanding has always been the “holy grail” for qualitative research. Focus groups, IDIs, ethnography and other methods have long been favored techniques to understand the emotional underpinnings of consumer decision-making. Qualitative experts consider body language as a significant, and often more reliable, indicator of true feelings than the words people use. Just how significant is hard to pin down. In his paper “Silent Messages,” Albert Mehrabian contends that 55% of communication is through “facial liking.” Whether this percentage is correct is debatable. However, most agree that non-verbal interpretation plays a significant role in understanding emotional reactions to stimuli.
The lack of access to non-verbal emotional cues has been an oft-cited criticism of online qualitative research by many practitioners. In the quest to gain a holistic understanding of a respondent’s reaction to stimuli, researchers have often adhered to the premise that in-person, face-to-face interviews are the only alternative. Recent advances in technology are beginning to erode this premise.
Yesterday, 20|20 Research, in partnership with Affectiva, introduced the first facial expression recognition solution for online research. The Affdex Discovery software recognizes changes in facial expression and codes it using algorithms developed at MIT to tie those expression changes to respondent’s emotions. Researchers have used this technology in quantitative surveys for some time to prove its validity. Recently, Affectiva and 20|20 rolled out a face-to-face qualitative solution. Today’s announcement takes the breakthrough a step further. We have now merged Affdex Discovery technology with online webcams so researcher and respondent do not have to be in the same room, or even the same country, to review stimuli and conduct emotional response analysis.
Since the technology uses webcam video, researchers now have access to two independent evaluation methods in an online environment. First, researchers can interview respondents about advertising or other stimuli just as they would in any face-to-face or online interview. Such an interview can include the typical questions related to brand image, message, memorability, product appeal, etc. Next, researchers can reveal the respondent’s results of an Affdex Discovery session to the respondent and probe his/her the feelings or observations related to the recorded emotion.
With online access, researchers and clients can see the facial expressions and body language of respondents from anywhere. We expect the most widely used method to be IDIs using our QualMeeting webcam capability to show live interviews and responses. Now researchers can remotely see with their own eyes how respondents react to stimuli, plus they have assistance from proven expression technology to add depth and insight to the interviews. Interviews using Affdex Discovery and QualMeeting are a great marriage of the power of human interaction with the consistency and visual reporting provided by technology. Affdex Discovery can also be used asynchronously using our QualBoard bulletin board platform.
Technology continues to provide more and more tools to make us better researchers gleaning deeper insights resulting in more appealing products and services for consumers. Affdex Discovery Online is yet another step forward in the use of online technology to understand consumers’ thoughts as well as their feelings and motivations.