The military funded this tech to help soldiers use words rather than weapons. But it turns out that your heart rate says a lot about your response to ads.

In 2005, neuroscientist Paul Zak was on an airplane, hunkered down on his laptop in hopes of finishing his work before he arrived home to his wife and kids.

Turbulence hit, shaking his laptop so fiercely he could no longer type. So he did what anyone would do. He turned on a movie—Million Dollar Baby, which had just won the Oscar for best picture.

By the end of the movie, Zak’s seat partner was poking him in the arm, asking him if he was okay. “Gobs of goop were coming out of every orifice in my face.”

The gut-wrenching father-daughter tale had shaken him to his core.

When Zak returned to his lab the next day, he told a psychologist in his lab about his strange reaction. The psychologist wasn’t surprised. “Well, yeah, psychologists use video all the time to change people’s moods.”

Zak wanted to learn more. Researchers on his team had been researching what promotes and inhibits the release of oxytocin, the empathy neurochemical in the brain known to foster human connection. Until then, they’d been studying what happens when humans interact with each other. But what if they could foster it at a distance through video, and quantify the effect that different kinds of content had on human connection?

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