Communication Research and Biosensors: Insights from the ICA Conference
A growing trend in the field of communication research is to augment traditional surveys, in-depth interviews or observation research with biosensor data. We see this not only in the number of communication research labs starting to use iMotions, but also the number of papers both published and presented at conferences.
The biggest conference for communication research is the International Communication Association (ICA) Conference, and if you were in Prague, the Czech Republic between May 24-28 you may have seen iMotions taking part. This was the first time we were able to join several of our customers at the largest communication conference in the world.
As we met with hundreds of researchers from all over the world we began to see several areas emerge as key areas of interest for communication researchers as they were using biometric sensors in their research:
1. Synchronizing of Data
From researchers just starting out to veterans who have been doing biosensor-based research for decades, they all have to overcome the issue of synchronizing biosensor data. Two main challenges they faced with data synchronization were (1) with different sampling rates and (2) aligning to stimulus presentation. The majority of researchers that we talked to typically used Eye Tracking or GSR/EDA data in addition to various other biosensor data sources such as ECG, EMG, EEG, and Respiration.
They found that it was key for them to not only synchronize all these different signals but also be able to summarize all the data in uniform bins of time. Typically they commented using 1-second bins.
The second challenge with synchronizing biometric data is to correctly align it to the stimulus being presented. This typically is not a problem if all the respondents were all watching the same video, but this is not always the case. With more and more dynamic media, stimulus presentation is not always the same for every respondent. For example, in a VR scenario, each response is able to view and experience something different from each other.
Similarly reaching some text stimulus may take some respondents a shorter amount of time than others. When trying to synchronize and then aggregate biosensor data in relation to dynamic stimuli this becomes a very time-consuming task. Many attendees, both iMotions clients, and potential clients found the way iMotions software handles these tasks extremely helpful and in one case a professor commented that the time saved with iMotions alone would free up one graduate student’s time alone per semester. This would allow them to spend more time with research and spend less time synchronizing the data.
2. Working with VR
As communication researchers are trying to understand the impact of VR media, they are constantly faced with how to best tap into the respondent’s experience without interrupting the experience. Additionally, there are many current studies that are looking at how a message delivered through VR compares to other types of media delivered via televisions or mobile devices.
We heard that many attendees were looking to biosensors to help quantify the emotional, behavioral, and cognitive experience across different types of media and specifically within VR environments. One of the most exciting aspects of using biosensors with VR was that they could now gain moment-to-moment insight of the respondents’ emotions and physiological responses without interrupting the immersive experience that VR enables. By using a variety of biosensors, communication researchers are looking forward to a better understanding of how VR content relates to different behavioral and emotional states.
3. Large-screen Media Consumption
Communication researchers understand that media is often viewed in groups and depending on the group, an individual could have a very different response than if they were by themselves. One of the challenges of using biosensors is how to replicate the group viewing experience if the respondents are sharing the same media devices.
Many attendees were able to experience the capabilities first hand of how to collect both eye tracking data and biometric data while watching content on a large LCD screen several feet away at the iMotions booth. By leveraging iMotions, current clients are already developing labs that more closely resemble the typical living room experience of viewing content in a group on a single large screen.
Overall we had a wonderful experience at the 2018 ICA conference in Prague. Several posters and papers were presented that leveraged biosensors and eye tracking data with the hope to see even more next year. Within the field of communication research, we see that iMotions has a lot to offer in areas of synchronizing various sources of biosensor data, gathering emotional data while viewing VR and allowing for large screen social experiences.
We look forward to being a partner for all communication researchers who are starting or expanding their biosensor-based researcher plans!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the new developments, thoughts, and insights within communication research that were discussed at the ICA conference. If you would like to know more about our solutions don’t hesitate to contact us.