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Harnessing Unconscious Visual Preferences to Consumer Choices

By Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on May 23, 2012

Harnessing Unconscious Visual Preferences to Consumer ChoicesWhen you pick up a pen out of a messy drawer or grab a coffee cup in the morning, you don’t really think about which to choose – at least not consciously.

New research suggests the brain’s visual perception system automatically and unconsciously guides decision-making. The process by which the brain selects one choice over another is driven by what is known as valence perception.

Valence is the positive or negative information automatically perceived in the majority of visual information. The process integrates visual features and associations from experience with similar objects or features. In this way, it is the process that allows our brains to rapidly make choices between similar objects.

Carnegie Mellon University researchers have published their findings in the journal Frontiers in Psychology and are now in the process of commercializing the findings for use by online companies.

Researchers believe the findings offer important insights into consumer behavior in ways that traditional consumer marketing focus groups cannot address. For example, asking individuals to react to package designs, ads or logos is simply ineffective.

Instead, companies can use this type of brain science to more effectively assess how unconscious visual valence perception contributes to consumer behavior.

To transfer the research’s scientific application to the online video market, the CMU research team is in the process of founding the start-up company neonlabs through the support of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Innovation Corps (I-Corps).

“This basic research into how visual object recognition interacts with and is influenced by affect paints a much richer picture of how we see objects,” said Michael J. Tarr, Ph.D. “What we now know is that common, household objects carry subtle positive or negative valences and that these valences have an impact on our day-to-day behavior.”

Tarr added that the NSF I-Corps program has been instrumental in helping the neonlabs’ team take this basic idea and teaching them how to turn it into a viable company. “The I-Corps program gave us unprecedented access to highly successful, experienced entrepreneurs and venture capitalists who provided incredibly valuable feedback throughout the development process,” he said.

NSF established I-Corps for the sole purpose of assessing the readiness of transitioning new scientific opportunities into valuable products through a public-private partnership. The CMU team was awarded a $50,000, six-month grant to investigate how understanding valence perception could be used to make better consumer marketing decisions.

They are launching neonlabs to apply their model of visual preference to increase click rates on online videos, by identifying the most visually appealing thumbnail from a stream of video. The web-based software product selects a thumbnail based on neuroimaging data on object perception and valence, crowd-sourced behavioral data and proprietary computational analyses of large amounts of video streams.

“Everything you see, you automatically dislike or like, prefer or don’t prefer, in part, because of valence perception,” said Sophie Lebrecht, Ph.D., lead author of the study and the entrepreneurial lead for the I-Corps grant. “Valence links what we see in the world to how we make decisions.”

Lebrecht continued, “Talking with companies such as YouTube and Hulu, we realized that they are looking for ways to keep users on their sites longer by clicking to watch more videos. Thumbnails are a huge problem for any online video publisher, and our research fits perfectly with this problem.

“Our approach streamlines the process and chooses the screenshot that is the most visually appealing based on science, which will in the end result in more user clicks.”

Source: Carnegie Mellon University

 

APA Reference
Nauert, R. (2012). Harnessing Unconscious Visual Preferences to Consumer Choices. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2012/05/24/harnessing-unconscious-visual-preferences-to-consumer-choices/39203.html