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Your Mouse: The Mind Reader?

A mouse is a pointing device that detects:

  • Two-dimensional movement relative to a surface
  • Your emotions…?

A recent study suggests both definitions might be true.

Anyone who has researched senior living for themselves or loved ones knows it can be an emotional experience, even when the process is as painless as possible. Throw in a confusing or unclear website experience, and emotion and frustration can easily boil over.

It’s not a huge stretch to imagine that the patterns in which we move our computer mouse might change depending on our mood or energy level. But data from this study shows that the way you move your mouse can yield valuable information about your emotional response to an advertisement or a website.

So much so that your sudden, jerky and inaccurate mouse movements in a moment of anger can become a determination not only of your frustration, confusion or sadness, but the intensity of that emotion.

The research builds off prior studies into how our brains control what we pay attention to, what we ignore, and how our emotions impact or interfere with that process. This is known as attentional control theory.

When distracted by negative emotion, users are less efficient in accomplishing tasks. The changes are so distinct that researchers were able to correctly identify sadness, anger or confusion nearly 82% of the time.

(If you’re into this kind of thing, you can read more about the researchers’ methodologies in this article by MedicalDaily.com.)

“Using this technology, websites will no longer be dumb,” said Professor Jeffrey Jenkins of the University of Arizona, one of the lead authors of the study.

Graduating beyond presenting information, the websites of tomorrow will be able to sense how you feel. “Being able to sense a negative emotional response, we can adjust the website experience to eliminate stress or to offer help,” Jenkins continued.

What does this mean for those of us who aren’t behavioral scientists? It signals a whole new world in real-time user experience tracking.

  • Developers can create thresholds that, when crossed, trigger various automated or personalized interventions to the user.
  • Troublesome areas of the website will quickly and clearly become evident, and can therefore be accurately targeted for revision and further testing.
  • There can be potential utility as a diagnostic tool (when installed voluntarily by a user). For example, it could detect tremors that signal a disease like Parkinson’s, long before otherwise noticeable.

The possibilities for this and other emotional feedback technology seem limitless, and emerging research suggests that emotion is as effective, if not more effective, at determining the functional success of a website than traditional quantitative methods.

We’re always keeping an eye on emerging technology to see how we can use it to better serve our clients.

As always, we’d love to hear what you think in the Comments section below!

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