Becoming a mind reader: How neuroscience is changing user testing

Many of us have probably, at one time or another, wanted to read someone else's thoughts to increase our understanding, to react better, or simply out of curiosity. This ability is no longer supernatural. By using science, companies can now literally read consumers’ minds to help them improve the customer’s experience and smooth points of friction.

User testing is an excellent way for a company to gain a better understanding of an individual’s needs and wants, and allows it to co-design the product of the future with the consumer. For decades, user testing has involved guided interviews, surveys, and rating scales, which companies employed to fine-tune their customer and employee experiences, enhancing everything from retail shop designs to workplace productivity.

These research methods aren’t without their flaws. Too often, subjects provide socially desirable answers to questions, or what they believe the interviewer wants to hear. Other times, they’re simply unable to put their feelings into words. In fact, research suggests only 10 percent1 of our behaviours and judgments are based on conscious thoughts—the rest stem from subconscious processes that are difficult to self-report.

These shortcomings, combined with the rapid evolution of technology, have given rise to a new breed of user testing—one that uses the power of neuroscience to visualize, measure, and quantify unconscious reactions from customers and employees to resolve a wide gamut of business challenges. And leading businesses are taking note.

Where business and neuroscience intersect
While it may seem like a concept fit for a sci-fi novel, neuroscience experience tests are currently being used by businesses across the world. These tests allow businesses to venture where they haven’t before: beyond perception, into a person’s full mental world.

For instance, rather than simply asking users how they feel about autonomous cars—a question they would likely find difficult to answer in extensive detail—a neuroscience experience test would measure a person’s cognitive processes and emotional responses as they ride in an autonomous car. This would allow a company to better understand the user’s subconscious reactions to specific aspects of the process and use that information to reduce any associated stressors.

This type of scientific, measurable testing has countless applications, from determining how people react to different brands (and why) to acquiring an honest view from employees of a new company intranet. And when combined with different tools and techniques, the benefits to businesses are endless. Companies are capitalizing on this scientific data to better anticipate users’ reactions, decisions, and emotions—and to understand their customers, and employees, on a whole new level.

How does it work?
Neuroscience experience tests start by equipping subjects with equipment like electroencephalography headsets (which measure voltage fluctuations of the scalp caused by the electrical activity of the brain) and eye-tracking glasses (which use a camera to capture the reflection of an infrared light source on the cornea). Next, subjects are asked to engage in an activity. With the help of image recognition, machine learning, and deep learning algorithms, researchers measure and decode the subjects’ responses.

In most cases, researchers will pay attention to an individual’s brain waves, eye movements, facial expressions, heart rate variability, and physiological responses to uncover their authentic first impressions. So, whether a subject is purchasing a car or navigating a new grocery store, researchers can help businesses enhance their user experience by paying attention to:

  • Where the subject looks, or doesn’t look
  • The user’s positive and negative responses, including aspects of a user experience that could cause anxiety and stress
  • Aspects of an experience that are taxing or difficult, which could benefit from simplification

An aggregation algorithm then produces comprehensive and easy-to-understand visualizations of the entire user reaction. This data can then be used to improve the user experience—for instance, by changing the text, colours, or wording of a website; simplifying the buying experience as a whole; or creating marketing campaigns that target relevant emotions—and ultimately increase the associated key performance indicators.

A promising future
While user testing, and particularly user interface (UI) testing, still offers value in a tech-focused world, neuroscience experience testing is a useful complementary tool. Not only does it go far beyond the testing of websites or apps, but it also provides companies with unprecedented insight into the emotions and behaviours underpinning human decisions. This information can be invaluable, for many business applications, including marketing, technology adoption and more. As the neuroscience testing field advances, having this type of data on hand will inevitably provide a benchmark for future business efforts, leading to even further insight.

To highlight the power of neuroscience experience testing as a benchmarking tool, Deloitte developed the Emotional Experience Index. It’s being used first to help evaluate user experience and provide a comparative analysis of eight financial services companies in Canada. Stay tuned for the release of our results in May 2019.


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Yohan Gaumont

Yohan is the leader of the Deloitte Digital Technology group for Canada and the leader of Deloitte Digital for Quebec. He helps clients achieve their ambitions both regionally and globally, and knows how to solve problems in the era of technological disruptions. Yohan combines creativity and tech knowledge, industry insights and business sense to transform businesses and capitalize on the digital transformation. He advises businesses in the retail, travel, manufacturing, life sciences and financial services sectors, and uses innovative technologies to create large-scale transformations while establishing strategic alliances with world-class software suppliers. He is constantly on the lookout for the best talent, and uses leading-edge technology to better serve his clients. Thanks to the full range of services offered by Deloitte Digital, businesses can submit their highest ambitions and most complex problems to us, knowing that Yohan’s team has the necessary resources to achieve their new business vision.

Romain Pourchon

Romain is the leader of the CX-UX expertise in Montreal and the founder of the UX laboratory, including the Neuroscience Experience Testing offer. He helps clients understanding their customers, organize research and ethnography studies, and develop concepts to solve the main pain points of the user experience. Both technophile and strategist, Romain is passionate about understanding how companies should interact with people and how technologies could leverage the overall experience. Romain works to support organizations through their marketing and digital transformation and helps them to implement a human-centred design philosophy. He worked for the finance, retail, aerospace, transportation industries and more. He supported the biggest brands from Quebec and is continuously reinventing the marketing industry processes to define a new approach by the data and behaviour. He makes marketing a science, specifically by using neuroscience to understand the interaction between a human and a technology.

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