Can you Dial in Prediction?

The Problem

Why not just ask people how they feel about a product, a show, or a politician? There is a deep assumption in economics and psychology that people know and can vocalize their own preferences. If this is the case, one can simply ask someone what she or he likes and, voilà! – market researchers have the information they need. But if this is true, why do we see so many expensive endeavors like movies, marketing campaigns, or economic market predictions – which rely on asking people what they think – fail?

Researchers aren’t simply asking the wrong questions – the tools they’re using are assessing the wrong parts of the brain.

Most of us suffer from a Freudian hangover. Freud convinced us that with enough probing, unconscious desires could be pulled from their dark cistern into consciousness. Modern neuroscience absolutely rejects this notion. The conscious dialog we experience in our brains is nonexistent for the 99% of brain activity that occurs autonomically, below our conscious awareness. In reality, our unconscious is a closed system that does not produce a dialog we can tap into, no matter how hard we try.


The Study

A recent client tested entertainment content using both dial testing and Immersion. They first asked respondents to turn a dial to express how much they consciously liked or disliked each scene (i.e., self-reported “liking”). This “dial-test” approach has been used to test audience reactions to TV and movies since the 60’s. The client then recruited a new batch of participants who would watch the content for the first time. This time, each person wore an Immersion Neuroscience sensor that passively sent the person’s neurologic data to the cloud for real-time processing, which allowed people to fully focus on and experience the content without interruptions from multi-tasking.


#1 Conscious and unconscious data are not interchangeable, which matters. If the brain’s unconscious, emotional responses to content and dial turns were correlated, then one could easily substitute one for the other. However, analysis of our client’s data revealed a near-zero correlation between dial turns and Immersion. This shows that these two approaches measure completely different constructs. In fact, as we have found in 15 years of research, “liking” is not what drives sales, social shares, and word of mouth – meaning it also doesn’t predict market behavior. It is Immersion that drives and predicts these outcomes.

#2 Immersion is not biased. The science shows there is a positivity bias in self-report. Most people will rate things more positively over time. Market researchers who have done dial-testing before are familiar with this data pattern, and the same was true in this study. Viewers turned up the dial and rarely turned it down (see Figure 1 below), unless the content was very bad. This pattern does not occur for the Immersion data. In fact, Immersion typically starts high and drops over time. Why? People have a greater curiosity to engage with novel content, and we start losing interest over time.

#3 Immersion is more variable than dial data. Similar to insight #2, we see the nature of data from these two approaches is very different. The brain works on a millisecond frequency, becoming immersed, then relaxing to modulate the metabolic cost of immersion. People simply cannot turn dials at such high frequency (see Figure 1). This is a key value proposition for Immersion: it provides content creators with precise reactions, which can be used to raise immersion and thereby improve market impact. Content is optimized by creating more peak immersion moments, which drive action, and by reducing neurologic frustration, which causes people to disengage from the content. This optimization gets to the bottom line: creating “must watch” commercials, TV shows, movies, and other entertainment requires that the content is immersive. While people cannot accurately report their unconscious emotional experiences, the Immersion Neuroscience technology can measure if your content is truly captivating audiences.

Key Take-Aways:

1. Dial-tests cannot capture what is immersive to the unconscious emotional brain.
2. “Liking” is the wrong measure — it simply does not predict the market impact of content. Immersion predicts market impact for content as varied as entertainment, live events, and corporate training.
3. Capturing the brain’s second-by-second immersion empowers creators to craft highly immersive content, which will produce high market impact.

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