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#IIeX Nonconscious Forum 2016: Politics, Emotion, and Technology

This year's IIeX Nonconscious Forums event was a 2-day jam-packed exploration of implicit measures and behavioral economics in the Consumer Neuroscience space.

Many of the talks touched either directly or indirectly on the surprise election of Donald Trump. Hosts Alex Hunt, President of Brainjucier, and Will Leach, Founder of TriggerPoint, both pointed to this election result as a call to action for those in the neuromarketing field—the polls got it wrong, and the need for implicit measures of voter preference has never been so clear.  We need to more accurately predict what people will actually do in the voting booth, not just record what they say they will do. This is a classic example of the divergence between explicit and implicit measures.

Kevin Keane, Co-Founder & CEO of Brainsights in Toronto, gave an election-related talk describing measures of voter brain activity during the final debate. They used EEG-measures of attention, emotional connection, and encoding to memory to quantify the persuasiveness of each candidate. Based on these measures, Trump had more moments of high persuasion, especially at the end when critical final impressions are formed.

Andrew Konya, Co-Founder and CEO of Remesh Inc. gave an impressive talk on machine learning measures of natural language related to the election. He explained how his team used machine learning to create a 300-dimensional concept space to parse the natural language of 1 billion Goggle News articles. Once this feat was accomplished, they fed the output into a neural network and trained it to detect key attributes. The result? They created a means to rapidly capture, code, and organize opinions of respondents participating in online, open-ended natural language conversations. When they applied this technology to conversations about the election, they showed that participants rated Trump substantially higher than Clinton for authenticity because of his “blunt honest” style. Powerful stuff.

John Kenny, from FCB, talked about the evolution of Behavioral Economics and Marketing. His presentation was a good primer for anyone interested in understanding what Behavioral Economics is all about, and he also recommended a number of helpful books on the subject.

Dr. Andrew Baron, Associate Professor of Psychology at UBC and advisor to Olson Zaltman, offered up a generous helping of skepticism regarding neuromarketing claims, and used his expertise in crafting IATs (Implicit Association Tests) to remind everyone present about the importance of implementing this test correctly.

LRW’s Dr. Collette Eccleston gave an interesting talk that spoke to how our world has become more complicated, even as our brains have basically stayed the same, with a focus on the essential human needs of Belonging, Appeal, Security, and Exploration.

Rod Connors, Co-Founder of System1 Creative Agency, gave a memorable talk on creating powerful ads that impact people at a System 1 level. He showed examples of video ads that forgo attempts to make claims or highlight the benefits of a product, and instead go for a gut-level emotional reaction. He also made suggestions for changing how creative briefs are developed, to focus more on the raw emotionality that impacts System 1 processing the most.

Dan Morris, President of PreTesting Group, gave an interesting talk where he showed videos demonstrating the use of saccadic technology, which measures vibrations in saccades to not only show where people are looking, but also measure their level of engagement. His co-presenter Nikkia Reveillac from Colgate-Palmolive went on to demonstrate how the technology revealed the negative impact that “visual vampires” can have, e.g., an ad featuring celebrity Kelly Ripa actually drew the focus away from the Colgate brand, reducing its overall effectiveness. Once these effects are measured, they can be easily remedied with improved brand placement.

Drs. Aaron Reid & Kristina Zosul of Sentient gave a stimulating presentation on their use of Sentient’s trademark primed-IAT to measure how Smirnoff’s famous “Deaf Dancer” video ad can shift brand preference, at least in the short term. This was followed by Elissa Moses from Ipsos, who explained how giving shoppers a flower can have a positive impact on their mood and enhance their shopping experience.

I enjoyed LRW’s Jason Brooks presentation on the use of virtual reality. He showed some exciting new applications of VR technology, including the use of VR to reduce stress for hospital patients recovering from surgery. Instead of lying on a stiff bed in a sterile hospital environment, they could experience relaxing on a beach by a virtual ocean. Similarly, he explained how VR was being used to address the issue of racial bias among police, including the ability to give a white police officer the experience of being a black man being pulled over by the law. It seemed a bit of a stretch to believe that VR could be so powerful, but I soon became converted once I tested out the VR headsets that LRW had on-hand at their booth. Now it seems clear to me that VR technology has the potential to radically impact our society, including teaching empathy through direct experience, and many more as-yet unexplored implementations.

Another notable talk was given by Mikey Renan, the Head of Business Operations at Sense360. Do you use Location Services on your smart phone? If you do, then you might be an unwitting participant in one of their studies that use anonymized location services data. He shared an example of a study they did for Home Depot which analyzed location services data to identify building contractors (defined as anyone who visited a hardware store multiple times per week) and determine how proximity to a hardware store influenced the choice of which store to visit. Bottom line: contractors were willing to drive farther to go to Home Depot instead of Lowes.

In addition to these individual presentations, there were several client-side panels, including one hosted by Merchant Mechanics CEO Matthew Tullman, and featuring Gretchen Gscheidle of Herman Miller, Douglas Healy of PepsiCo, and Rosie Balk of Balk Group LLC. Their wide-ranging discussion delved into several relevant themes for the supplier-side, including the need to demonstrate how work will provide something better than what has come before. All in all, it was a productive two days featuring some of the best-of-the-best in the Consumer Neuroscience space. I enjoyed meeting other people in the field and also learned a lot from both the presentations and the informal conversations that took place. Are you interested in diving into the neuromarketing space? Then meet me at next year’s Insight Innovation Exchange Forums.

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Recent Trends in Millennial Insights

Highlights from GutCheck's research into Millennials, and what that research means for the future of not only market research but product innovation, product development, and marketing at large.


By The GutCheck Team

We’ve all learned a lot about Millennials in the past few months. From their hard-to-predict voting behavior to their questionable-at-best survival skills, the power of Millennials to take center stage and influence the world cannot be ignored. So we decided to take a closer look at this desirable target audience, compiling all the consumer insights and implications from our recent research to build an actionable persona. Below are the highlights from all we learned about Millennials, and what it means for the future of not only market research but product innovation, product development, and marketing at large.

Millennials Want Straightforward Social Media That Connects and Informs Them

In an exploratory study of what features matter most to both Millennials and teenagers (aka, Gen Z) when it comes to social media platforms, we discovered that both groups have replaced other media and communications tools with social media for the convenience and personalization it offers. Millennials were particularly focused on the convenience, expressing a desire for simple, straightforward apps, which they don’t have to spend time learning.

“I like to use social media to connect with others, and learn new things. Social media helps me stay current with things going on in the world, and see how other people view the world.” – 29, Male, Ohio

Millennials use social media on the go, in between other activities, and during downtime, so apps should be designed for short bursts of activity, with flexible content experiences conducive to both multi-tasking and in-depth consumption (like Apple’s News app). For some visuals on how teens and Millennials prioritize social features, check out the report summary here.

But They Don’t Appreciate Ads and Glitches in Their Apps

Our discoveries got us wondering: what keeps an app on Millennials’ and teens’ phones for the long run? Pokémon Go proved that it’s still possible to immediately capitalize on technological innovation and established appeal; but its swift decline means that it takes more than hype to maintain users’ interests. Not surprisingly, the apps that earn a lasting place in the lives of Millennials are those that are easy to use, streamline daily routines, and make their lives easier: the universality of Facebook and the organization of Pinterest were highly celebrated, and a desire for more apps that would help increase productivity was expressed repeatedly.

“I guess I’m kind of a forgetful person, so an app to turn up my air conditioning or down the heat, or turn off the lights, fans, TV, etc., would be very helpful in my daily life.”

– Female, 34, iPhone user, Frequent in-app purchases

But the crucial factors when it comes to loving an app are the presentation of ads and the efficacy of the app. Apps that are complicated, have technical bugs and crashes, or use too many of their phone’s resources are often targeted for deletion. And even though intrusive ads annoy Millennials, very few would pay to remove them, opting to just delete the app entirely. To learn more about what apps Millennials prefer, including screenshots of the most-used and suggestions for new ones, read the report summary here.

Millennials Want Freshness They Can See at Quick-Serve Restaurants

With Americans spending more on dining out than they do on groceries, it’s no surprise that teens and Millennials are frequenting quick-service restaurants (QSRs) more than ever. In order to help QSRs capitalize on this trend, we sought to better understand current impressions and behaviors surrounding their business, as well as what conveys quality to their young customers. Turns out that taste, location, and price drive most Millennials in their QSR choice, prioritizing cravings and freshness over overtly healthy options. Since it ranked so highly, we further investigated Millennial and Gen Z perceptions of freshness, revealing that in-view prep and ingredients that resemble what’s found in nature are what connote freshness.

Millennials were also sensitive to messaging that helps contribute to perceptions of freshness, including terms like “crisp” and “just picked,” and they were particularly appreciative of a clean, friendly atmosphere. It’s a fine line QSRs have to tread between speed and quality, but making freshness visible to consumers will help QSRs, including chains, go far with Millennials. As part of this research, we asked Millennials and teens to tell us which meals they eat at QSRs most often for, as well as how they’d rank some well-known QSRs. Read the full report here.

And They’re Looking for a Secure, Convenient Experience from Banks

Digital banking is already a part of consumers’ lives, with many relying on such services to track day-to-day account activity, read statements, and manage payments. But banks looking to expand into more advanced digital services, like mortgages and wealth management, must consider how they would be received by customers that span multiple generations. And when we asked both Millennials (ages 21-34) and non-Millennials (ages 35-55) if they’d be open to conducting these more involved banking processes online, Millennials were receptive, but concerned. Fraud and potential for security breaches were their main barriers to adoption, but many also lamented the personalized assistance and advice that digital banking lacks.

But overall, the convenience and accessibility of digital banking is enough to interest Millennials in more advanced services, citing the pushy sales techniques and long waits of in-person banking as particularly frustrating: they just want more customer service and data security. To learn more about the differences in banking habits of both Millennials and non-Millennials, access our results from a quantitative Agile Attitudes & UsageTM study here.

Though they often get a bad rap among marketers, Millennials aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Benchmarking your perceptions and taking note of consumer trends will help give you the advantage necessary to understand this ever-evolving segment. And if you’re planning to conduct a study targeting Millennials and considering incorporating mobile market research methods, check out our eGuide on best practices when conducting mobile research.


Marketing Research Methods: Shhhh! Just Listen…

Brands must be good listeners if they are to convincingly play a key role in helping people express who they are.


By Saul Hopper

As a practicing clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst in the world of marketing research, I’ve come to realize that I listen differently from most consumer insights researchers. As a therapist, I listen on several levels at once and monitor my own thoughts, feelings, and memories. I observe body language, both that of the speaker and my own. I follow my free-associations to words and images and what I am feeling and daydreaming about as I listen becomes part of the data I analyze and interpret. I listen to my own inner chatter and use it to formulate strategic hypotheses as the interview continues.

The chatter might consist of snippets of songs, phrases, and childhood memories in a flashing image. Yet while I attend to the chatter, I also know that to really listen to another person I have to suspend my own self-interests. I have to open my heart as well as my ears to the uniqueness of the human being I am trying to connect with empathically. Deep empathic listening is a full body experience! It is not a passive activity. We have to deliberately and patiently suppress our own judgments and reactions. As we listen empathically we begin to comprehend the underlying motivations, the internal emotional conflicts, the surrounding relationships, the cultural context and the individual’s personal history.

We listen for what is said, but also what is not said but which begins to be very loud in its silence. We begin to hear more deeply and more broadly, beyond just the spoken words of the individual. We listen for all the stories… the common themes, yes, but also for the story that reveals the individual’s “narrative identity.” We all conceive of who we are through the construction of compelling and coherent personal narratives and our own mythologies. With active, empathic listening we accept the responsibility of taking on the speaker’s need to be heard and understood, especially the need to have one’s identity affirmed. People can feel how they are listened to and, when they feel understood, they reveal more of what is most true for them and closest to their hearts.

Why is this important in marketing? Brands must be good listeners if they are to convincingly play a key role in helping people express who they are. Feeling understood is a vital human experience and is profoundly emotionally satisfying. When we feel a brand “gets us” and can help us tell the world who we are, our narrative identity is bolstered and we are grateful. We incorporate that brand into our lives and we talk about it like it is a member of our inner circle. Indeed we have a personal relationship with it.

Remember, a good listener makes you feel understood and invites you to say more. A good brand helps you say it.


NYAMA/BrandSpark Survey: Marketers Focusing on Mobile and Consumer-Generated Content Strategies into 2017

Some 50 percent of Marketers Have More Than 30 Percent of Media Budget Assigned to Digital Initiatives



The New York American Marketing Association  (NYAMA) and BrandSpark today announced in conjunction with Dapresy, a global provider of data visualization and data integration software, that the results of the first annual NYAMA/BrandSpark American Marketers Survey are available online here.

The survey captures the views of more than 650 marketers across the United States, representing a range of major industries. Marketers shared their overall strategy, key tactics, challenges, successes, media spend intentions and ROI perceptions.

According to the report, researchers expect to see marketers make big investments in technologies to improve mobile marketing effectiveness and consumer-generated content strategies over the next six to 12 months.

“Respondents believe that marketing is more important than ever before, and adopting new technologies effectively is a must to stay competitive,” said Lukas Pospichal, managing director, GreenBook & New York AMA. “Mobile marketing was selected as the trend that will have the biggest impact on marketing in the next 12 months (and 10 years), though only 41 percent have a mobile strategy in place; another 30 percent are planning to implement within the next year.”

Robert Levy, president, BrandSpark International, added:

“Similarly, just over 30 percent indicated they had a strategy on consumer-generated content or influencer marketing, but just as many are planning to implement one in the coming year. As they do so, they should be cognizant of the fact that while most organizations rely solely on consumer-generated content from social media or contests and promotions, only a small percentage indicate their initiatives are very successful. The highest success rates were cited when marketers cite multiple sources for generating consumers review and other content.”

Content marketing/branded content, data management & analytics and online video are the other marketing areas expected to see the greatest growth as strategies implemented (or firmed up) in the coming year. That is, if marketers can overcome the biggest challenge cited to implementation plans: a lack of resources available to make the shift.

Accurately measuring ROI, as always, remains a critical challenge for marketers. However, they are increasing spend on channels they perceive to offer the highest ROI. These include CRM/email marketing and social network advertising. Online video is also on the rise, but interestingly has approximately the same perceived ROI as broadcast television.

Respondents said the biggest likelihood to cut back on spending is print marketing (newspapers, flyers and magazines), OOH advertising, and radio, in large part because these channels have accounted for a large portion of budget and marketers are looking for money to fund the digital initiatives that are becoming a greater part of their overall mix.

Other key findings of the study include:

  • The top tactical tool to implement in the coming year is marketing technology software, with about 50 percent planning to implement.
  • Among the seven in 10 marketers with a digital strategy in place, half have more than 30 percent of their media budget assigned to digital initiatives, while a quarter have more than 50 percent.
  • More than 50 percent of marketers with a content marketing strategy have a dedicated staff to manage and produce content.
  • Advanced marketing analytics and the emergence of Millennials are expected to have almost as much impact as mobile over the next 10 years. These Millennials are driving an increasing demand for personalization.

Findings available online via Dapresy dashboard

“We are excited to make the results of this important study available to everyone,” said Rudy Nadilo, president North America, Dapresy, via a Dapresy online dashboard here.

About Dapresy (www.dapresy.com)

Dapresy is a global provider of data visualization and reporting software. Unlike traditional business intelligence tools that focus on deep-dive analysis for a limited audience, Dapresy visualizes and distributes data into existing company processes for all designated people. It enables clients to deploy dynamic KPI-driven marketing dashboards to clearly communicate complex data from markets, users and customers. The company’s unique dynamic dashboards are individually tailored, deploying the right data to the right people at the right time. For marketers looking to move beyond PowerPoint and Excel, Dapresy is the faster and far more effective way to easily present marketing information from multiple sources in a manner that improves decision making.

Twitter: @Dapresy

About NYAMA (http://www.nyama.org)

The New York American Marketing Association (NYAMA) is an organization that inspires, supports and celebrates brilliance in marketing.  Founded in 1931, the NYAMA is the principal community for marketing professionals across all industries and disciplines in the New York area. Offering programs, monthly events, and interaction with the chapter through volunteer activities, we provide marketers with an opportunity to increase their knowledge and reach in the marketing community. We also serve as a resource for all marketing events, activities and news in the New York and surrounding areas.

About BrandSpark International (http://www.brandspark.com)

BrandSpark International is a leading brand, marketing and product innovation research company. With deep expertise in consumer packaged goods, BrandSpark has a global perspective on what drives innovation unlike any other research company. We understand the insights and content that brands need to launch and support new products. BrandSpark runs North America’s most credible consumer voted awards program for new products, the Best New Product Awards, and generates new product reviews, certified claims and insights through its new shopper engagement platform, Shopper Army.


Transhumanism and MR

Technical innovation has been transforming MR. But what if, one day, it also transforms the human race?


By Kevin Gray

The first time I heard of Transhumanism it struck me as the product of too much coffee, too little sleep and far too much Star Trek.  I still catch myself searching for The Onion logo when I spot a reference to it.  After all, AI and robotics have yet to live up to their hype and even the cure for the common cold remains elusive.

Nonetheless, much of what we take for granted today was once undreamed of or deemed impossible.  Heavier-than-air flight was scoffed at and “computer” was an occupational designation for humans. It seems like just the other day when we heard the iPhone would never sell…So while on the surface Transhumanism seems a bit far-fetched, I thought I’d take a closer look.

But first, what is it?  According to Wikipedia:

Transhumanism (abbreviated as H+ or h+) is an international and intellectual movement that aims to transform the human condition by developing and making widely available sophisticated technologies to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities. Transhumanist thinkers study the potential benefits and dangers of emerging technologies that could overcome fundamental human limitations, as well as the ethics of using such technologies. The most common transhumanist thesis is that human beings may eventually be able to transform themselves into different beings with abilities so greatly expanded from the natural condition as to merit the label of posthuman beings.

Transhumanism comes in assorted flavors.  Again, from Wikipedia:

  • Democratic transhumanism, a political ideology synthesizing liberal democracy, social democracy, radical democracy and transhumanism.
  • Extropianism, an early school of transhumanist thought characterized by a set of principles advocating a proactive approach to human evolution.
  • Immortalism, a moral ideology based upon the belief that radical life extension and technological immortality is possible and desirable, and advocating research and development to ensure its realization.
  • Libertarian transhumanism, a political ideology synthesizing libertarianism and transhumanism.
  • Postgenderism, a social philosophy which seeks the voluntary elimination of gender in the human species through the application of advanced biotechnology and assisted reproductive technologies.
  • Singularitarianism, a moral ideology based upon the belief that a technological singularity is possible, and advocating deliberate action to effect it and ensure its safety.
  • Technogaianism, an ecological ideology based upon the belief that emerging technologies can help restore Earth’s environment and that developing safe, clean, alternative technology should therefore be an important goal of environmentalists.

Imagine an ad suddenly popping up inside your head for a seminar on Posthuman Marketing?  But maybe there would be no need for seminars – or marketing itself – in that sort of world.  Imagine that our minds, memories and personalities one day are uploaded into a cloud of some sort…well it’s hard to imagine. The road to Posthumanism would surely be very jarring for the human race.

I have no technical or philosophical competence to comment in detail regarding the feasibility or potential consequences of Transhumanism or Posthumanism. However, I feel it’s something we should be thinking about because at least some of these dreams (nightmares?) may become reality in the not-too-distant future.

FYI, here are a few sources I dug up in my brief look into this fascinating yet disturbing subject:

Eat, Drink, and be Merry, for tomorrow…???


Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted by Leonard Murphy Thursday, November 24, 2016, 6:00 am
Posted in category General Information
Happy Thanksgiving to our friends in the US! We will be back next week with great new content!




What Americans Want This Black Friday

Pollfish Black Friday national survey results

My friends at Pollfish have been doing good work leveraging their innovative global panel to conduct timely and compelling research. When they reached out this week with the results of a study they just completed on Black Friday trends, I thought it would be an ideal post for this week.  You’re welcome, Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate and happy shopping this Friday for those brave souls who want to participate!

(Click on the image to be taken to an enlargeable version that you can also download.)



Growing the Industry by Funding More Research – Part Four

Collaborata is the first platform that crowd-funds research, saving clients upwards of 90% on each project. We’ve asked Collaborata to feature projects they are currently funding on a biweekly basis.

By Peter Zollo

Editor’s Note: Greenbook remains steadfast in our commitment to grow the industry through innovation and new solutions. One startup we’re enthusiastically supporting has as its mission to do just that: “Get research funded.” Collaborata, through leveraging the sharing economy for our industry, is currently funding more than 20 projects at www.collaborata.com. Here’s one that’s new and particularly interesting:

“Cracking the ‘Black Box’: Unearthing Netflix Viewership Data”

zolloIn these days of “Big Data,” Netflix, arguably one of the world’s most tech-forward entertainment companies, is an outlier.

Because Netflix does not sell advertising, it is able to keep its viewership data private, preventing access to invaluable insights to competitors and content producers alike. So, Netflix has successfully remained a “data black hole,” ensuring that there would be no Nielsen-style ratings that would offer competitive intelligence.

Until now, content producers and other Netflix partners have needed to make key decisions without viewership data and insights. But thanks to Luth Research’s proprietary ZQ Intelligence™ technology, Netflix viewership data is now available. Luth’s groundbreaking research reveals – in granular detail based on passive data-collection technology – who’s watching Netflix, how they’re watching, and what specifically they’re watching. In other words, the “black box” has finally been cracked.

The trends and insights from this data will illuminate many of the often-asked questions about the impact of Netflix’s distribution of TV networks’ content, audience characteristics, and cross-platform consumption behaviors.

We’re thrilled that Luth has chosen Collaborata as its exclusive distribution partner to the industry, and that this research is now fully funded and ready for delivery. We’re making the data available at two different price points, based on recency, which are described via the links below:

Current Data (upcoming 12 months)

Historical Data (past 12 months, beginning six months from current)


Technology is Not the Answer to Better Insights

Instead of moving towards passive/reactive listening options, let’s pivot towards a proactive relationship with the public.


By Kevin Lonnie

Whether you were happy with the recent election results or you’re currently searching for affordable Canadian housing options, odds are you were surprised with the results.

Well, how did the polls get it so wrong this time? Of course, there is no single factor involved. But a recent Ad Age article went so far as to place part of the blame on voters themselves.

“…part of the shame belonged to Trump voters, many of them unwilling to admit, particularly to live human beings on the other end of the phone, their plans to vote for the president-elect.”

          – Ad Age (Nov. 11, 2016)

When we start blaming the public for our inaccuracies, we have gone off the rails.

Clearly, there is a whole litany of possible solutions and better-integrated solutions than our current reliance on phone polling. As Einstein wrote, the definition of insanity is; “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

All right, how do we replace/augment our current polling tactics? The general consensus seems to be rallying around better modeling, algorithms and passive listening. In other words, if consumers/voters won’t tell us the truth, we’ll figure it out ourselves.

Emblematic of that trend, IIeX this week is hosting “The Forum on Nonconscious Consumers” in Chicago.

Apparently, since the public is not to be trusted, our only option is to surreptitiously deduce the hidden truth via technology.

I think we’re moving in the wrong direction.

Of course, there’s a place for behavioral economics/neuromarketing/eye tracking/text analytics, but they all stink at answering the fundamental question “why?”

The role of MR is to help companies make better decisions (e.g. launch a product, kill a bad concept, etc.). We only get there by acting as a conduit for the consumer.

And that’s why I feel we should find ourselves more in touch with 21st-century social mores and allow for a more interactive/reciprocal relationship. Did we really ever understand the disgruntled Trump voter’s journey? Did we put them in a position to drive the car and tell us how they arrived at their viewpoint on election day? Will greater reliance on nonconscious technology answer any of those fundamental questions?

If we are to arrive at the right answer, we have to double down on our commitment to the public. We need new techniques that empower the customer, so they can feel comfortable in sharing their viewpoints.

In other words, instead of moving towards passive/reactive listening options, let’s pivot towards a proactive relationship with the public.

Our relationship with the customer should be the epicenter of finding the right answer. Technology remains a means to that end, but by no means is technology the answer in itself.


UAlbany Emoji Study: My Smiley May be Your Smirk

There are differences in the choices of emoticons across languages, just as there are differences in the choice of words that people of different languages use.


By Debra Caruso Marrone 

Emojis. The smiley face. The angry face. The wow! face. We think we all know what they mean.

Psychology professor Laurie Beth Feldman knows differently.


Posters for Feldman’s colloquium in the Women’s College at the University of Qatar in Doha last week.

“In fact, there are differences in the choices of emoticons across languages, just as there are differences in the choice of words that people of different languages use,”she said. “The sense of a word can differ by context and it is almost certain that the same applies to emoticons. Emotions are universal but their expression is not always.”

Feldman gave a well-attended colloquium last week in the Women’s College at the University of Qatar in Doha, where she was warmly welcomed by faculty and students.

She recently asked students whose first language is Arabic to give an example of an emoticon that does not translate well. They would not use this smiley 🙂 to indicate happiness or joy. They said they use it for something more superficial and maybe even to hide anger or sarcasm.

Feldman, a cognitive psychologist interested in language, joined the UAlbany faculty 26 years ago. She examines language processing (speaking and reading) in both native speakers and non-native speakers of a language with special attention to word structure, such as how to form the past tense of verbs (ie: walked has an “-ed” but ran does not).

“The smiley has multiple meanings, even within a language. The classic example is to indicate that you intend to be humorous or sarcastic by including a smiley just as one might smile if conversing person-to-person,” she said. “People also use emoticons to gain consensus. It would be the analog of saying, ‘Right?’ or ‘You know what I mean?’ in a spoken conversation.

Feldman reported about the behaviors of adult scientists who do not speak the same first language and who worked together for four years, examining how they communicated remotely to control a telescope. She found they alter their use of emoticons and vocabulary depending on whom they are talking to.

“This style of coordination across speakers has been documented for vocabulary, grammar, emotions, gestures and now emoticons in bilingual speakers,” Feldman said.

The paper is now under review for publication. (Under review, Bilingualism, Language and Cognition, with co-authors Cecilia R. Aragon, Nan-Chen Chen and Judith F. Kroll.)


Feldman in front of a wall of emojis in the Women’s College at the University of Qatar.

Some of Feldman’s work on emoticons across different languages is used in the Psychology of Languages courses she teaches at UAlbany to demonstrate how we learn about behavior by analyzing patterns in big data. She also directs the undergraduate honors program in psychology.

Feldman was invited to Qatar by her host, Yousri Marzouki, who is from Aix-Marseille University in France and has a visiting teaching position at the Women’s University. She knew him from a panel she organized last year at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (publisher of the journal Science) annual meeting in San Jose, Calif.

The two researchers have begun to collaborate on analyzing tweets from the Paris attacks in 2015.

“We collected 250,000 tweets from the Arab attack in February 2015,” Feldman said. “We analyze patterns, like do people who tweet with an “I” pronoun (I, me, my, mine) use more words associated with excitement (like praise, freedom, abuse and betrayal) than people who tweet with a “we” pronoun (we, our, ours),” Feldman said. Marzouki, Feldman, her former student Samira Shaikh and current graduate student Eliza Barach are analyzing those tweets.

About the University at Albany

Educationally and culturally, the  University at Albany-SUNY puts the world within reach for its more than 17,300 students. A comprehensive public research university, UAlbany offers more than  120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master’s, doctoral, and graduate certificate programs.  UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciences, business,  criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare, and sociology taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.