How the Smart Watch Trend Observes Consumer Behaviour

Galvanic Skin Response

Have you ever watched a film or seen something happen that “made your skin crawl”?

This old phrase is not simply a use of words; it’s actually referring to a specific bodily response — a galvanic skin response. The skin is the human body’s largest organ and constantly sends signals to the body’s nervous system — which produces emotions, reactions, instincts, and a whole range of other feelings and thoughts. Many marketers have tapped into technologies to measure galvanic skin responses to gain further customer insights.

The million-dollar question — how does GSR work, and why is it relevant to market research?

What is a Galvanic Skin Response (GSR)?

Put simply; Galvanic Skin Response refers to how the skin communicates a person’s emotional reaction to a particular stimulus. GSR uses the way the body communicates to understand emotional reactions.

When a human being feels certain positive or negative emotions, the body reacts by secreting a small amount of sweat through the glands in the skin. It may be so slight that it is not even visible or apparent; still, this can indicate the depth of a reaction. Sweat secretion happens without conscious control, making it a dependent variable in research.

How Does GSR Work?

Sweat secretion is a reptilian-level response; the associated changes in skin conductance are nonconscious processes under sympathetic control (the same part of the nervous system that controls the heart rate and blood pressure) and reflect changes in arousal. In emotional situations, bodily processes trigger automatically; the heart beats faster, the pulse rises, and hands become sweaty.

Sweat — even in small quantities — acts as a conductor of electricity. It is possible to determine the sweat level the body produces by using electrical currents at a low level to see how much it travels. The degree of electrical conductivity indicates a person’s depth of reaction to a specific stimulus. The highest density of sweat glands on the human body are on the feet and hands — which means those body areas offer the best place to measure sweat activity.

Galvanic Skin Response technology allows a safe, non-intrusive way to test nonconscious drivers of consumer behaviour.

Consumers are Familiar with GSR Test Tools — Look at the Smart Watch Trend

In recent years, there has been fast growth in wearable tech. Smart watches and health tracking devices such as the Fitbit have become increasingly popular. Consumers have become accustomed to using wearable tech without really thinking about it.

One of the strengths of GSR research is that it piggybacks on this behavior. The sweat measurement element of the GSR meaning is measured via a simple wristband that a consumer wears. Since many consumers are already used to wearing smart watches, this research methodology is often preferred as opposed to some research methodologies where the consumer is constantly reminded of the research environment’s artificial nature.

How GSR Helps Provide Consumer Behaviour Insights

Using Galvanic Skin Response on its own as a research tool is possible, but merely registering the emotional reaction of a respondent to a stimulus doesn’t necessarily provide any insight into that emotional reaction. For this reason, it is common to find GSR paired up with other research tools.

GSR testing frequently supports eye-tracking research, allowing researchers to see where respondents’ eyes move when shown a specific stimulus. For example, a respondent may be shown an advertisement, a web page design or packaging mockup while being monitored to see where their attention is focused, as shown by how their eyes move. 

Eye-tracking on its own does not necessarily help to explain why respondents’ eyes are moving the way they are. That is where GSR can help. By providing real-time continuous readings of the skin’s activity, GSR meaning can link states of arousal to the eye-tracking results. This can help explain science-based eye-tracking results rather than a mere hunch.

GSR test output is identical for both positive and negative stimuli. So while GSR is an ideal way to measure emotional arousal, it cannot reveal the emotional valence that is the quality of the emotions — or whether the arousal was due to positive or negative stimulus content. The true power of GSR meaning unfolds as it is combined with other data measures to help paint the full picture of emotional behaviour.

Why is GSR Considered a Reliable Source for Behavioural Data?

GSR measures the physiological reaction of the human body in the form of sweat. Scientific research explains the correlation between sweat level amount in certain areas and specific emotional responses, making it an accurate methodology. Unlike many research techniques, GSR is a straightforward measurement exercise that does not involve guesswork.

How GSR examines responses reduces the risk of misinterpretation. When used for testing, it indicates that a respondent had a certain level of arousal, which is an objective fact. It’s not clouded by being tied to open-ended questions and can easily be paired with other tools to draw further correlations.

GSR is a Cost-Effective, Complementary Research Tool

Most marketers and insight managers agree about the business value of end-user or shopper insight research. Understanding the consumer behaviour of potential or existing consumers, from awareness through purchase and use, is very helpful in optimizing a marketing strategy or even a product launch.

Proper research costs time, money and effort, and in most organizations, choices have to be made based on a limited budget. Not all research methodologies are affordable. Sometimes there will be a rush to use a single methodology because it is fast, proven or cheap — even if it is not necessarily the optimal methodology for the research question to be answered.

As a standalone methodology, GSR is not an obvious first choice. It can help to explain what has been discovered in other research but is not designed to deliver wide-ranging research answers on its own. That being said,  including GSR tests as part of a suite of research methodologies within a project can be a good choice.

Respondents typically come to a lab to participate in GSR test research, so the research can be fast and cost-effective to organize. It is a fairly standardized methodology which is simple to execute. Partnering with a research provider who has already invested in the necessary equipment and training for GSR can make the cost of the research itself much more affordable.

GSR Done Right

Consider the main research objective when choosing the right testbed for utilizing GSR. GSR works best when looking to gauge the magnitude of emotional responses to something.

For example, it might be well suited to testing advertising in combination with other biometric tools to see what approaches or scenes are engaging. When testing more static content such as a package, it would be less useful.  It is also possible to use GSR tracking outside of the lab and in a real-world environment, such as in an accompanied shop or consumer home visit. This will require much more logistical organization than a lab environment, but it is possible with a trained expert in GSR.

Although highly scientific, GSR technology is easily accessible and utilizing it within marketing research is a strategic choice for certain projects, especially those looking at consumer behaviour.

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