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Unmasking Emotions During Lockdown: Enabling Market Research in a Pandemic


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The past year has provided numerous challenges, but it has also allowed for an accelerated pace of innovation and adoption of new technologies. Due to the longevity of the pandemic, many companies were forced to pivot to face new challenges head on. Human behavioral researchers, for example, who previously gathered data from in-lab participant studies suddenly found themselves looking for a new virtual solution to continue to move projects forward more efficiently and cost effectively.  

Affectiva’s longtime partner iMotions, a human behavior research platform, recognized that to stay competitive they would need an online solution that allowed them to continue to serve their clients safely. Their new online data collection tool not only overcomes the immediate challenges caused by the pandemic, but also creates long term opportunities for expanding and enhancing lab-based research.

Affectiva’s, Co-Founder and CEO, Dr. Rana el Kaliouby and Graham Page, Global Managing Director of Media Analytics, recently caught up with Ole Baunbæk Jensen, VP of Product at iMotions to discuss their new online data collection tool, how Affectiva’s technology is integrated to provide deep insight through facial expression analysis and the impact it’s had on client research.

For those who are unfamiliar, what does iMotions do?

iMotions is a software company that integrates data from all different modalities such as eye-tracking, facial expressions and physiological senses like heart rate. iMotions human behavior research software synchronizes data and offers analysis based on metrics and high level insights to provide a more complete picture of human behavior.

iMotions’ technology spans a wide field of application areas. Media companies, for example, utilize the platform to test pilot TV shows, trailers, and advertisements, but clients also come from leading academic institutions to global brands to healthcare organizations.

A pandemic that sparked an online data collection revolution

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In a recent livestream, Ole explained that the pandemic had a big impact not only on the market research industry, but also on iMotions’ technology. 

In past years, iMotions primarily collected data from in-lab participant research. When COVID-19 hit and many labs were forced to temporarily close, clients reached out looking for an alternate option to continue to utilize iMotions’ technology remotely. Experiencing a 90% drop in lab activity ignited the need for a virtual data collection option as an interim solution in response to COVID-19. However, as the pandemic persisted, iMotions shifted their focus to make the online data collection tool a more permanent approach to research. 

By integrating Affectiva’s Emotion AI technology into the Online Data Collection (ODC) tool, users are able to gain deeper insights through facial expression analysis. The ODC tool captures data from a range of media including videos, images and websites, integrating biometric, behavior and self-report data mechanisms all in one place. This combination of capabilities provides the user with deeper and more holistic data output.

iMotions’ client, the University of South Florida, experienced immediate value as an early adopter of the ODC tool through running an Anti-Smoking biometrics-focused study for the Florida Department of Health.The study explored how smoking advertisements work and how they’re going to change behavior. Using Affectiva’s Emotion AI paired with other technologies such as eye tracking, USF researchers were able to measure and analyze participant behavior in natural environments, requiring only a browser and webcam. The solution for this project was based on data from self-reported surveys which was found to be more effective in predicting whether or not participants were going to explore a website or share content on social media to stop smoking. 

Technology trained to travel the world

Both iMotions and Affectiva have been deliberate and diligent in collecting data from diverse populations to ensure the technology they are building is representative of all cultures.

Online data collection allows market researchers to collect data directly through a web browser. With the ever-expanding availability of internet and smartphones worldwide, this access makes iMotions’ ODC possible and enables them to collect from varied populations. 

Though iMotions doesn’t develop machine learning algorithms themselves, they can help researchers and organizations to amass the data needed to fuel their own technologies. For example, if you want to develop a certain algorithm to diagnose someone with a particular condition, you could utilize iMotion’s online data collection tool to collect the data from all sorts of populations across numerous countries, generating a large data set that you can continue to leverage for future research.

Throughout Affectiva’s 8+ years collecting data worldwide, it has become abundantly clear that there are many cultural nuances across populations. Having that level of cultural understanding means we can provide context to clients interested in understanding emotional engagement in certain markets, and this is key in making fair comparisons.

By training Affectiva’s algorithms with diverse data, we are able to put a lot of faith in the accuracy of the facial classifiers across different cultures. Because our technology has been trained on populations from all over the world, this makes a big difference in being able to provide accurate and representative cultural benchmarks.

Looking ahead 

The past year has provided numerous challenges, but it has also allowed for an accelerated pace of innovation and adoption of new technologies.

COVID-19 temporarily threatened the survival of in-lab research, driving iMotions to innovate in order to deliver on client projects. By utilizing their existing software and leveraging partner technologies, iMotions was able to provide a fast and more cost effective global solution, enabling human behavioral research capabilities to anyone, anywhere at any time.

While iMotions’ Online Data Collection tool may have started as a response to the challenges caused by the pandemic, it has evolved into long term opportunities to expand and enhance lab-based research.

Watch the full live stream and check out the podcast to learn more!

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