SPARK Neuro Cheat Sheet: Understanding Neuroanalytic Technology

Subconscious emotions. Neural signals. Brainwaves. Mind-reading tech. It sounds like something out of science fiction. 

But in the world of neuromarketing, it’s not only possible; it’s how many of today’s top brands make their most important creative decisions.

The turn towards neuromarketing springs from an insight familiar to many marketers: humans are complicated. What we choose depends on a complex mixture of what we know, how we feel, what we believe, and what we’re paying attention to. 

To capture it all, SPARK uses a range of tools, from the newest [e11_tooltip color=”green” content=”Biometric methodologies are methods that measure bodily signals, such as sweat or brainwaves”]biometric technologies[/e11_tooltip] to tried and true [e11_tooltip color=”red” content=”Participant behavior, attitudes, or beliefs that are reported by the participants themselves. Includes scales, questionnaires, qualitative interviews, etc.”]self-report measures[/e11_tooltip](1). None of these methods can do it all—but together, they offer deep insights into how and why people make their decisions.

Here’s how they work!

Biometric Technologies


Electroencephalography (or EEG for short)


What does it measure?

EEG measures [e11_tooltip color=”green” content=”Synchronized electrical activity produced by many neurons firing together.”]brainwaves[/e11_tooltip] via tiny metal sensors that sit atop your skull(2). It is by far the most complex sensor and provides us with the greatest insight into your cognition. Collecting data every eight milliseconds, it has an extremely high [e11_tooltip color=”red” content=”How accurate a measure is concerning when something happened. Methods with high temporal resolution can tell when a signal is occurring pretty accurately.”]temporal resolution[/e11_tooltip]. However, there’s a tradeoff with lower [e11_tooltip color=”green” content=”How accurate a measure is concerning where something happened. A method with low spatial resolution where something is occurring in the brain.”] spatial resolution [/e11_tooltip] than some other neuroimaging methods; it’s not as good at pinpointing exactly where the signal is originating. 

How does SPARK use it? 

These EEG signals are the main drivers of our attention and emotional intensity algorithms. We use the raw EEG signal to extract reliable measures of attention and emotional intensity based upon a combination of data-driven and theory-driven analyses.



Galvanic Skin Response (GSR)

What does it measure?

Every time you feel emotionally aroused (really excited, for example), you sweat a little bit. GSR measures microscopic changes in the electrical activity that comes out of your pores when you sweat(3) It’s the same technology behind lie detection in a polygraph. GSR give us information about [e11_tooltip color=”red” content=”The intensity of an emotion. Arousal exists on a spectrum of calm to excited.”]emotional arousal[/e11_tooltip], but not [e11_tooltip color=”green” content=”The quality of an emotion. Valence exists on a spectrum of positive to negative.”]emotional valence [/e11_tooltip] . GSR has lower temporal resolution than EEG, collecting about 10 samples per second. (Though that’s still pretty fast!) 

How does SPARK use it?

GSR provides us with supplementary information for our emotional intensity algorithm.


Eye tracking

What does it measure?

Eye tracking quantifies on a moment-by-moment basis where the eye is fixating and for how long

How does SPARK use it?

Eye tracking complements our neural attentional signal to give greater insight into why neural attention is spiking. For example, during the branding moment, we can determine if participants are paying attention to the brand logo, or the cute puppy on screen. 


Facial Coding

What does it measure?

Facial coding measures facial expressions and [e11_tooltip color=”green” content=”a brief, involuntary facial expression that appears on a person’s face according to the emotions being experienced.”] microexpressions [/e11_tooltip] while participants are exposed to content(4). A tiny smirk can say volumes about how a participant feels.

But much more can lurk below the surface. That’s why facial coding is one of several sources for learning about participants’ emotional states. 

How does SPARK use it?

Facial coding complements our neural emotional intensity signal to give greater insight into why emotional intensity is spiking. For example, is a surge of emotion from surprise or fear? Facial microexpressions can reveal the answer.


Self Report Measures

Although self-report methods have well-known limitations(5), they can still provide insightful data in combination with other biometric measures. 

Subconscious Influence Meter (SIM)


What does it measure?

SIM gets at the real-time cognitive process of decision making(6). It can measure both conscious reactions to stimuli (e.g. the choice the participant makes) and the subconscious reactions to stimuli (e.g. how confident the participant is in their decision).  

How does SPARK use it?

We apply SIM to study decisions of all kinds, from choosing which brands to buy to which presidential candidate to support. SIM allows us to assess not only the conscious choice being made but also how confident a participant is in that choice. 



Surveys and Interviews

What does it measure?

Surveys allow us to measure participants’ explicit attitudes as well as some of the implicit reactions that shape them. These include memory measures like [e11_tooltip color=”red” content=”A recall test involves asking the participant to remember items without any specific cues (example: fill in the blank test).”]recall[/e11_tooltip](7) and [e11_tooltip color=”green” content=”A recognition test involves asking the participant to remember items with the help of cues(example: a multiple choice test).”]recognition[/e11_tooltip](8), explicit attitudes like the intent to purchase and feelings toward the brand, and several other factors.

How does SPARK use it? 

Our [e11_tooltip color=”green” content=”SPARK’s in-house methodology that uses a participant’s own biometric data as a prompt for further self-report measures. Used in interviews to understand reactions, motivations, and beliefs while being tested.”]neuro introspective[/e11_tooltip] interviews allow us to glean even more insight into why a participant reacts in a specific manner—and on a moment-to-moment basis. 

1.Lavrakas, P. J. (2008).Encyclopedia of survey research methods Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc. doi: 10.4135/97814129639472.Cohen, M. X. (2017). 2Where does EEG come from and what does it mean?. Trends in neurosciences, 40(4), 208-218.Boucsein, 3.W. (2012). Electrodermal activity. Springer Science & Business Media.Matlovic, T., Gaspar, P., Moro, R., Simko, J., & Bielikova, M. (2016, October). 4.Emotions detection using facial expressions recognition and EEG. In 2016 11th international workshop on semantic and social media adaptation and personalization (SMAP) (pp. 18-23). IEEE.5.Nisbett, R. E., & Wilson, T. D. (1977). Telling more than we can know: Verbal reports on mental processes. Psychological Review, 84(3), 231.6Freeman, J. B., & Ambady, N. (2010). MouseTracker: Software for studying real-time mental processing using a computer mouse-tracking method. Behavior research methods, 42(1), 226-241.7.The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2007, July 16). Recall. Retrieved July 30, 2013, from 8.The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2019, January 19). Recognition. Retrieved July 30, 2019, from