Why Facebook is interested in your attention, emotions, memory

Why did Facebook commission a study to look at users' attention, emotional engagement, and memory retention while browsing websites? To convince advertisers the social network is the best.

Facebook recently hired NeuroFocus, a company that applies neuroscience to consumer insights, to take a close look at consumer engagement on premium websites and understand quantitatively how people respond to different online experiences. Why did Facebook bother? The social networking giant wanted to show advertisers how important of a role context played in optimizing their messages across different types of media.

In the first part of the study, NeuroFocus tested three popular website homepages: the New York Times homepage (representing a hard news and commentary experience), Yahoo's non-personalized homepage (representing a light news and entertainment experience), and the Facebook News Feed (representing a social experience). The company then analyzed consumers' subconscious responses to each of these sites by looking at their attention, emotional engagement, and memory retention.

The findings weren't too shocking: The New York Times, Yahoo, and Facebook deliver substantially more engaging experiences than the average web site. Facebook was first in emotional engagement, tied for first in memory retention, and tied for second in attention. It scored highest overall. Color me unsurprised.

In the second part of the study, NeuroFocus used the same measures to examine people's responses to the same advertisement but in different environments. The company looked at ads displayed on TV, on a corporate web site, and on a Facebook Page.

Again, the results showed that consumers respond differently to the same advertisement presented in a different medium. While Facebook scored first in emotional engagement, second in attention, and third in memory retention, it still won overall.

"This study underscores what full-brain neurological testing measurements can bring to critical decision-making when it comes to allocating advertising campaigns across online experiences," Dr. A. K. Pradeep, Chief Executive Officer of NeuroFocus, said in a statement. "The ability to understand consumers' subconscious responses to premium web sites brings new understanding on how people engage with online and social media sites."

Although it's important to remember that Facebook funded this study, so it could very well be skewed towards the social network, it still shows some very interesting insights. You can read the whole 17-page study here: The Premium Experience: Neurological Engagement on Premium Websites (PDF).

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