Is Neuroscience the Future of Attention Metrics?

By Devora Rogers, Alter Agents

At the Advertising Research Foundation’s recent AudienceXScience conference, the topic of attention metrics took center stage. As brands continue to encounter challenges in obtaining this data in today’s digital landscape, many are seeking new approaches and experimenting with how to uncover and measure this type of audience information.

In addition, ARF covered its new Attention Validation Initiative, an “empirically based evaluation of the rapidly developing marketing for attention measurement and prediction.” The first phase of the project included identifying and mapping vendors and services in the space, including what and how they are measuring when it comes to attention. This will be important for brands looking to find the right service to meet their unique goals, as well as shedding light on overall validity and reliability of any given approach.

Biometrics and neuroscience hold great promise in this arena. We’ve seen this at work in our own multimodal studies, in which we have used agile neuroscience to uncover critical insights for clients to help them predict behaviors and create business strategies. Our preferred methodology, called Immersion, measures physiological processes, such as variable heart rate, to indicate what’s going on in the brain – indicators that ultimately lie behind emotions, actions, and decisions. According to a recent scientific research project published in the Psychology & Marketing journal, heart rate variability was shown to be “a promising tool for identifying and evaluating consumer psychophysiological responses to marketing stimuli…broadening opportunities for marketing researchers to improve real-time consumer experiences.”

How it works: agile neuroscience uses

During the pandemic, lab-based neuroscience research was extremely limited. Instead, we turned to Immersion’s approach, which captures data from participants wherever they are in the world, using their own (or a provided) smartwatch or wearable device. This was a perfect solution in a world where getting together in person for a study was not a viable option.

For example, we worked with Snapchat during the pandemic to look at how mobile video consumption and engagement are changing, specifically among millennials and Gen Z. We used agile neuroscience to reveal the extent of the audience’s emotional engagement with video content, using “immersion score”, a scientific measure of attention and emotional resonance. We found that video consumption, engagement and emotional response permanently shifted due to the pandemic.

Similarly, we used the technique to help Audacy to uncover attention metrics for audio listeners. In this case, we gathered 571,050 data points by testing 81 audio advertisements embedded in various programs among 141 listeners. Participants were exposed to each ad 15 times over the course of seven days. They wore smartwatches and consumed media reels online in their homes, as the smartwatch wristband sensors communicated second-by-second cardiac activity to the Immersion platform. The collected data showed that audio content was engaging, beyond industry benchmarks.

This agile method means you can collect important data and attention metrics in or out of a lab, remotely or in-person, in a store, at an experiential event, with researchers to witness what’s occurring in person, or simply analyzing the data as it comes in. The flexibility of this specific approach means it can be used in a huge number of scenarios and environments, depending on what a particular brand or business needs to uncover.

In conclusion

As the industry continues to grapple with obtaining usable attention metrics to optimize advertising outreach, creative messaging, customer communications and much more, neuroscience provides a path to better outcomes that are increasingly agile, affordable and accessible.

By pairing neuroscience methodologies with traditional quantitative and qualitative approaches, brands can start to predict human behavior on a granular level. We can answer questions like:  What physiological processes in the brain underlie our emotions, actions, and decisions?  How can we leverage our understanding of those processes to make informed predictions and important decisions? It all comes down to oxytocin and the effects that hormone has on our decision making process, neuroscientists tell us. Methodologies that use the body’s physiological responses to stimuli go far beyond traditional stated data, and can help us measure attention and predict consumer behavior.

About the Author

Devora Rogers is Chief Strategy Officer for Alter Agents (, a full-service, strategic market research consultancy. Consumer and shopper insights and strategy have been her passion for more than a decade. Devora has led research teams, developed the methodology deployed for Google’s groundbreaking ZMOT research, and worked with dozens of global brands. Devora’s research philosophy is centered around understanding what drives decision making for shoppers and consumers and then helping brands develop a strategy to activate. She is co-author of the shopper marketing book, “Influencing Shopper Decisions”, published by Kogan Page.