What is a stimulus? – Stimuli in research

When it comes to human behavior research, stimuli are the items used to evoke a reaction from participants or respondents in a study. Stimuli may come in a range of formats including audio, visual or physical.

So what is stimulus? Stimuli (or stimulus in singular form) are the bedrock of the research study. It’s vital to understand what the stimulus is, and how to utilize it most effectively.

The purpose of the selected stimulus should be to make the research scenario more engaging and interactive for participants, and should mirror real- life as much as possible.

It should also narrow the focus to the research question at hand, without requiring too much prompting.

Case examples

An example of a stimulus being employed to great effect might be a study whereby eye tracking is used to identify the new brand logo design customers are most interested in. In this case, the stimuli would be the logos that are presented to respondents with their response measured by eye gaze.

Stimuli may also be used in a clinical research setting. For example, following a treatment intervention for achluophobia (fear of the dark) a participant may be exposed to a dark room with his or her bodily response being captured using GSR (Galvanic Skin Response). In this case, the dark room acts as the stimulus.

How to select and use stimuli?

  1. Fit the hypothesis
    The obvious starting block for any research is the hypothesis. Make sure the stimulus chosen addresses the specific research question closely.
  2. Make it realistic
    In order to make your findings as transferable as possible, make sure the stimulus resembles its real-life counterpart. For example, if you are presenting a participant with a new print advertisement, make sure the color scheme of the sample stimulus is exactly the same as the one the customer will actually be exposed to. The range of virtual technology currently available makes simulating real-life experiences and stimuli more possible than ever.
  3. Use Integrated software
    It makes sense to present your stimuli and measure responses from the same platform. This not only makes the entire process easier and more streamlined but can add exciting new dimensions to your study. Single platforms are available that provide both biosensors and stimuli presentations.
  4. Use real-time synchronization to observe responses
    When you conduct a study, the moment of truth is often seeing the response to your stimulus, usually in the data analysis stage. Now, however, technology has advanced to the stage where you can witness the response in real-time by observing sensory inputs.

To enhance your use of stimuli seek out software capable of providing this function.

Our software allows the use of physical stimuli, fx tasting products, fragrances or packages. During the study, respondents can inspect them by following the instructions while they are being recorded with the software.

Stimulus Software available

iMotions offers a wide range of software that can enhance your stimulus use.

The integrated platform can present respondents with a range of high-quality visual stimuli including images, videos, and audio (Also in 360 formats for VR). You can also add different types of stimuli recording, regarding the purpose of your study: screen recording, to record everything your respondent is seeing or doing on the computer screen; face recording, for post-import facial expressions analysis, and scene recording, as an external camera to record what the respondent is doing during the test.

In terms of human-computer Interaction and measuring factors such as website usability, for example, iMotions software provides a seamless flow between study, stimuli, and respondent setup. This provides a comprehensive overview of the participant’s response to the website or app.

Understanding your stimuli and using them effectively is a vital part of human behavior research (take a look at some of our other tips to make your study a winner!).

There are some truly exciting new avenues available to researchers looking to enhance their use of stimuli and iMotions are on the cutting edge of this technology.

Now is a great time to get acquainted with our software. Contact us and see what we can do for you.

Download iMotions Software Brochure

iMotions is the world’s leading biosensor platform. Learn about how iMotions software can help you with your human behavior research.

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