Can Wearables measure emotion to give us a deeper insight into Consumer Behaviour?

Letitia Oglesby
February, 2016

Can Wearables measure emotion to give us a deeper insight into Consumer Behaviour?


A recent article popped up on one of my social media feeds about an Israeli student who regularly uses his “FitBit” (a popular fitness and activity tracker).  One day out of the blue, he got a call from his boyfriend at the time, wanting to end their relationship. The student was devastated and took some time off to digest the news. Later that evening, out of habit he connected his FitBit to his computer to log in his activity. To his surprise he could pinpoint the exact time of the breakup based on his heart rate. The data showed that his heart rate had escalated rapidly and remained elevated for most of the afternoon despite having done no physical activity.

Wearable Tech is a rapidly growing industry that, if applied correctly, has the ability to revolutionise the healthcare sector. Why is it though, in the eyes of many of the general public is it just regarded as nothing more than a novelty or a gimmick? Some simply see it as an extension of their smartphones; unaware of the powerful potential of these bits of kit. Although smartphone technology is impressive, these devices are still not realising their full capability – particularly in the healthcare industry, they don’t fully represent their potential as a standalone device due to the lack of monitors that could harness their power.

A wide range of wearables are being created for different disease areas. Take asthma for example, it is a disease that has many innovative treatments being fashioned around it, including some very impressive wearable technology. Last year there were reports of a new wearable and supplementary app that can provide people with a monitor that detect heart rate, wheeze, respiration and heart rate.  Depending on certain outcomes, this app can alert you, your next of kin or emergency services with your GPS location and remind you to take your inhaler when needed. There are also sensors that are being developed that are powered by the heat and motion of your body that can detect how it will react to pollution levels. The app then sends alerts to the consumer forewarning them of potential triggers, such as dust mites or smog.

What interests me here, is the possibility of tapping into some form of “measurable emotion” and, by extension measuring physiological activity in order to better understand consumer behaviour. Although many people believe it is problematic to view human emotion statistically, and of course correlation does not equal causation, analysis of the physical data trends produced by wearable tech has yielded interesting results in the past. Given its potential in the healthcare sector, it certainly warrants further exploration.

In “Thinking Fast and Slow” Author and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahnemann tells us that the modes for processing information can be divided into two separate systems:

System 1: More of an automated emotional response; it’s fast, intuitive and more likely to be a subconscious decision

System 2: More of a conscious response that’s slower, calculated and probably more likely to be based on logic

Most effective communication strategies highlight the importance of emotion and I believe that it is at the heart of all of the decisions that we make. When researching consumers, if we were able to tap into this physiological data we could understand more about the emotions that drive their decisions. This could open up a whole new avenue in leveraging insights that influence consumer behaviour, especially if we were able to base ideas on a quantifiable scale of emotion.


Some would argue that this is too intrusive. If we could develop this deeper understanding this may give marketeers an almost “godlike” power to influence people for their sole gains. To quote that well-known adage “with great power comes great responsibility”. There are many restrictions around the data which will somewhat restrict the potential.

The extent to which this all could become a reality depends on the willingness of consumers to be examined to such a high degree. Although the wearable tech industry is still fairly nascent what is clear is that it has enormous untapped potential. For now at least, the prospect of a deeper understanding is what excites me and should excite you too! Watch this space.


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