Editor's note: This is part of a three-part series on applied neuroscience for cosmetic product development. Part I defines neuroscience; Part II demonstrates a study to understand the consumer; Part III shows how the described concepts can be applied to product development.
Study 1: Understanding the Consumer
Consumer compliance is a stumbling block for the success of many cosmetic products. Therefore, designing products to increase compliance by creating a positive emotional experience is key. In relation, the authors have shown that priming paradigms are valuable tools for assessing implicit self-evaluation and offer an interesting approach to product design.
The present novel preliminary study tested the hypothesis that an implicit positive or negative association with self mediates physiology and behavior toward self imagery. Attitudinal, perceptual and physiological components of self image were assessed. This data provides a quantitative demonstration of how implicit cues, targeting a person’s self-concept, influence the way they react physiologically and behaviorally.
Methods: Study 1
Participants: Seventeen adult female participants between the ages of 18-35 were recruited for the study. All participants signed an informed consent form and received an incentive for their participation.
Questionnaire: Before and after testing, participants completed the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale9 (RSES) to assess the state of their self-esteem and the effects of priming (described next). This scale is perhaps the most widely used self-esteem measure in social science research.
Priming: Participants were primed “positive” (n = 6) or “negative” (n = 5) using a facial feature description task in which they were instructed to choose three positive or five negative facial features. As a control (n = 6), some subjects instead chose their three most frequently used makeup products. Participants then viewed an image of their own face for 15 seconds while being measured physiologically.
Psycho-physiological measures: The effects of priming, i.e., positive, negative or control, were studied by electrophysiological changes and eye tracking behavior. Electrophysiological assessment included: fEMG for emotional valence, HRV for attention and GSR conductance for arousal.10
The physiological data was collecteda using a wireless transmitter and receiversb. The filter settings were: low-pass 10 Hz and high-pass 500 Hz for EMG; low-pass 3 Hz and high-pass DC for GSR; and low-pass 35 Hz and high-pass 1 Hz for electrocardiogram (ECG). The signals were recorded by softwarec at 1000 Hz.
Heart rate was calculated by distance between positive R peaks from the ECG waveform, expressed in beats per minute (BPM). GSR was measured with a constant voltage of 0.5 V along with an isotonic gel and disposable snap electrodes (16 mm gel cavity). For the fEMG, 4-mm snap electrodes were used with electrolyte geld. Eye tracking data was collectede at 60 Hz and recorded by softwaref. Each respondent was approximately 70 cm from the monitor.
Procedure: The experimental sessions took place in a centrally located testing facility. The experiment leader explained the process to the participant, allowed time for questions, and asked the participant to sign the informed consent form. A photo of the participant was then taken (see Figure 1a), after which electrodes were applied (see Figure 2). Oral instructions were given by the experiment leader and after instruction, participants were given the pre-RSES survey asking them to list either: three of the most liked features of their face (positive priming), five of the least liked features of their face (negative priming), or three recently purchased makeup products (control). Participants were then shown the original image of themselves for 15 seconds while physiological and eye tracking measurements were recorded, and a heat map was generated (see Figure 1b). Following self imagery stimulus exposure, participants were given the post-RSES survey.
Data analysis: Repeated analyses of variance (ANOVA) were conductedg on time-averaged psycho-physiological responses with priming positive, negative or neutral as within-subject variables. A p value of 0.05 was considered significant With this novel paradigm, the authors investigated how social cues modulated subjects’ implicit self-evaluation through physiological and behavioral measures.
Results: Study 1
Priming on self-esteem: Comparing pre- and post-priming, overall scores were not significantly different among the priming groups [F(1, 42) = 0.01, p = 0.93; see Figure 3]. However, examining the changes in scores from each priming group revealed a trend. While post-priming RSES scores for both the control and negative priming conditions decreased from the pre-priming measure, participants who were positively primed actually showed increased post-RSES scores.
Priming on emotional valence: The priming paradigm, i.e., positive, negative or neutral, also had a significant effect on both the positive and negative emotional valence obtained from fEMG. Muscle activity in the corrugator supercilii muscle group is associated with frowning and a negative effect—i.e., negative emotional valence. The zygomaticus major muscle group is associated with smiling and a positive effect—i.e., positive emotional valence.11, 12
Time-averaged means of positive valence fEMG to the self imagery comparing priming conditions revealed a significant effect of priming [F(1, 42) = 8.13, p < 0.05; see Figure 4]. Participants felt significantly more positive after positive and negative, rather than neutral, priming. Further, negative priming was significantly more effective at increasing positive effects than positive priming.
Time-averaged means of negative valence fEMG to the self imagery comparing priming conditions also revealed a significant effect of priming [F(1, 42) = 5.54, p < 0.05; see Figure 5]. Participants felt significantly less negative after negative, rather than neutral and positive, priming. In addition, negative priming was significantly more effective at decreasing negative effects than positive priming.
Priming on attention and arousal: Time-averaged means of attention (HRV) to the self imagery comparing priming conditions revealed a significant effect of priming as well [F(1, 42) = 3.58, p < 0.05; see Figure 6]. Participants focused significantly more attention after neutral priming than either positive or negative priming. Also, positively primed participants felt significantly more focused than negatively primed participants.
Once again, time-averaged means of arousal (GSR) to the self imagery comparing priming conditions revealed a significant effect of priming [F(1, 42) = 8.78, p < 0.05; see Figure 7]. Participants that were primed either neutral or positive felt more aroused while negatively primed participants felt significantly more relaxed.
Conclusions: Study 1
The effects of advertising on the body image have been studied by researchers ranging from psychologists to marketing professionals. In many occasions, advertisements act as role models, guiding people to feel better or worse about their own bodies or actions. For some product or service categories, the war is no longer between lowest price and best quality, but on higher order psychological benefits such as confidence, beauty, etc.
Social cues have subtle, non-conscious effects via the implicit priming of trait associations. Priming paradigms are therefore valuable tools for assessing implicit self-evaluation. This novel preliminary study tested the hypothesis that an implicit positive or negative association with one’s self mediates physiology and behavior towards self imagery.
This type of research may have implications for product design, packaging and marketing, as messaging for consumer products may elicit unintended or intended changes to self-perception and other higher order psychological constructs. For the current study, attitudinal, perceptual and physiological components of self image were assessed and the data provides a quantitative demonstration of how implicit cues, targeting a person’s self-concept, influence the way he or she reacts physiologically and behaviorally.
Charles Darwin theorized that emotions were biologically determined and universal to humans. Emotions are a complex state of feeling that result in physical and psychological changes and influence behavior. By measuring these physiological reactions to stimuli, researchers able to better understand emotional and unconscious/non-cognitive responses underlying behavior.
After being primed with positive, negative or neutral messaging, the physiological responses of participants to self imagery and assessment of self-confidence were measured. Negatively primed participants expressed the least interest in looking at their own faces—including how long and quickly they looked at primed features—although it was an overall mixed emotional experience likely reflecting feelings of embarrassment. Positively primed participants were very engaged and interested in looking at their own faces, including how long and quickly they looked at primed features. Positive priming also appeared to rescue re-test decreases in self-confidence found in negatively primed and control groups.
(continue to Part III)
- M Rosenberg, Society and the Adolescent Self-Image, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ (1965)
- MJ Magnée, JJ Stekelenburg, C Kemner and B de Gelder, Similar facial electromyographic responses to faces, voices and body expressions, Neuroreport 18(4) 369-72 (2007)
- JT Larsen, CJ Norris and JT Cacioppo, Effects of positive and negative affect on electromyographic activity over zygomaticus major and corrugator supercilii, Psychophysiology 40(5) 776–85 (Sep 2003)
- W Sato, T Fujimura and N Suzuki, Enhanced facial EMG activity in response to dynamic facial expressions, Int J Psychophysiol 70(1) 70–4 (Oct 2008)