Commercial Emotions September 2015
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Researchers are furthering the understanding of human emotions. Neuroscientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, Massachusetts) have identified a neural circuit that seems to be at the core of decision-making processes that involve anxiety-inducing choices. The scientists anticipate that this discovery will have primarily medical applications; however, it could also see use in marketing applications to manipulate consumer decisions. And a team of researchers led by Marianna Obrist of the University of Sussex (Brighton, England) is developing ultrasonic technology capable of making users experience certain emotions. The fact that touching specific areas on a person's outstretched hand can make the person feel various emotions served as the foundation for the team's work.
Commercial applications may become more commonplace as knowledge grows and wearable, sensor-equipped devices proliferate. Goldsmiths, University of London (London, England), political scientist Will Davies is concerned that wearable-device manufacturers might use emotional measurement as a target application. Dr. Davies argues that "our anxiety is their revenue opportunity." For instance, InteraXon (Toronto, Canada) has developed Muse—a sensor-equipped headband that the company claims can monitor neuron activity and help users strengthen the part of the brain that relates to empathy and composure. Going a different direction, Attend (Boston, Massachusetts) cofounder Drew D'Agostino has developed Crystal—a service that uses a textual-analysis algorithm to analyze publicly available data sources to develop personality profiles for a user's coworkers and friends. The service then provides the user with suggestions about how best to communicate with those people. Unsurprisingly, the main resistance to this type of profiling comes from consumers who are concerned about privacy, even though the data Crystal leverages are publicly available. Perhaps the most direct commercial application of emotions comes from Japan, where Hiroki Terai has developed a successful series of events (rui-katsu) at which clients may cry freely in the presence of other people. The benefits of group crying include general catharsis and mood improvements.