Objective measures of emotion related to brand attitude: a new way to quantify emotion-related aspects relevant to marketing.
ABSTRACT With this study we wanted to test the hypothesis that individual like and dislike as occurring in relation to brand attitude can be objectively assessed. First, individuals rated common brands with respect to subjective preference. Then, they volunteered in an experiment during which their most liked and disliked brand names were visually presented while three different objective measures were taken. Participant's eye blinks as responses to acoustic startle probes were registered with electromyography (EMG) (i) and their skin conductance (ii) and their heart rate (iii) were recorded. We found significantly reduced eye blink amplitudes related to liked brand names compared to disliked brand names. This finding suggests that visual perception of liked brand names elicits higher degrees of pleasantness, more positive emotion and approach-oriented motivation than visual perception of disliked brand names. Also, skin conductance and heart rate were both reduced in case of liked versus disliked brand names. We conclude that all our physiological measures highlight emotion-related differences depending on the like and dislike toward individual brands. We suggest that objective measures should be used more frequently to quantify emotion-related aspects of brand attitude. In particular, there might be potential interest to introduce startle reflex modulation to measure emotion-related impact during product development, product design and various further fields relevant to marketing. Our findings are discussed in relation to the idea that self reported measures are most often cognitively polluted.
- SourceAvailable from: Peter Walla[Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: Climate change, the need for efficient and environment-friendly energy use and health-related issues like obesity and addictions, these three crucial topics build a triad that the global society has extensively been discussing and caring about during the past decades. First, according to the recently published fifth IPCC climate change assessment report (2013), intense weather conditions have been on the rise. These changes will in extreme cases impose life-threatening dangers to some civilizations, but it will mostly influence individual attitudes and decision-making and thus finally modify consumption behavior quite dramatically during the next decades. Second, the European Union is aiming for a 20% cut in Europe's annual primary energy consumption by 2020 (Energy Efficiency Plan 2011). This government-driven aim does not only affect global industry, but again also the consumption behavior of each individual end-user. Third, according to the World Health Organization (2013), worldwide obesity has nearly doubled since 1980. In fact, 65% of the world's population lives in countries where overweight and obesity kills more people than underweight (World Health Organization, 2013). Given these unpleasant scenarios we need to get active now in order to prevent the worst and to ensure the best possible and highest standards of life across the globe.Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 04/2014; · 2.90 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: Objective: To propose startle reflex modulation (SRM) as an objective measure of emotions of children with profound multiple disabilities (PMD). Knowledge about emotion states of children with PMD is crucial to their individualised care and support. Proxy reporting, observational and physiological measures of emotion are reported in the literature. Despite advances in this science, the rigour of the findings and methods are contested. In this article, we introduce SRM; a neurophysiological measure untried with children with PMD, despite its well-known sensitivity to even subtle changes in affective processing without depending on explicit responses. Results: We propose a research agenda that aims to deliver a more comprehensive and accurate profile of the inner states of these children, based upon previous research undertaken using SRM. Conclusion: It is suggested that this objective measure has potential to provide useful information about the inner emotional states of children with PMD.Developmental neurorehabilitation 10/2013; 16(5):340-4.
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ABSTRACT: We present a new model of opinion changes dependent on the agents emotional state and their information about the issue in question. Our goal is to construct a simple, yet nontrivial and flexible representation of individual attitude dynamics for agent based simulations, that could be used in a variety of social environments. The model is a discrete version of the cusp catastrophe model of opinion dynamics in which information is treated as the normal factor while emotional arousal (agitation level determining agent receptiveness and rationality) is treated as the splitting factor. Both variables determine the resulting agent opinion, which itself can be in favor of the studied position, against it, or neutral. Thanks to the flexibility of implementing communication between the agents, the model is potentially applicable in a wide range of situations. As an example of the model application, we study the dynamics of a set of agents communicating among themselves via messages. In the example, we chose the simplest, fully connected communication topology, to focus on the effects of the individual opinion dynamics, and to look for stable final distributions of agents with different emotions, information and opinions. Even for such simplified system, the model shows complex behavior, including phase transitions due to symmetry breaking by external propaganda.PLoS ONE 01/2012; 7(9):e44489. · 3.53 Impact Factor
Objective Measures of Emotion Related to Brand
Attitude: A New Way to Quantify Emotion-Related
Aspects Relevant to Marketing
Peter Walla1,2,4*, Gerhard Brenner3, Monika Koller3
1School of Psychology, Faculty of Science and Information Technology, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia, 2Biological Psychology Unit,
Faculty of Psychology, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria, 3Institute for Marketing Management, Vienna University of Economics and Business, Vienna, Austria,
4Neuroconsult e.U., Vienna, Austria
With this study we wanted to test the hypothesis that individual like and dislike as occurring in relation to brand attitude
can be objectively assessed. First, individuals rated common brands with respect to subjective preference. Then, they
volunteered in an experiment during which their most liked and disliked brand names were visually presented while three
different objective measures were taken. Participant’s eye blinks as responses to acoustic startle probes were registered with
electromyography (EMG) (i) and their skin conductance (ii) and their heart rate (iii) were recorded. We found significantly
reduced eye blink amplitudes related to liked brand names compared to disliked brand names. This finding suggests that
visual perception of liked brand names elicits higher degrees of pleasantness, more positive emotion and approach-
oriented motivation than visual perception of disliked brand names. Also, skin conductance and heart rate were both
reduced in case of liked versus disliked brand names. We conclude that all our physiological measures highlight emotion-
related differences depending on the like and dislike toward individual brands. We suggest that objective measures should
be used more frequently to quantify emotion-related aspects of brand attitude. In particular, there might be potential
interest to introduce startle reflex modulation to measure emotion-related impact during product development, product
design and various further fields relevant to marketing. Our findings are discussed in relation to the idea that self reported
measures are most often cognitively polluted.
Citation: Walla P, Brenner G, Koller M (2011) Objective Measures of Emotion Related to Brand Attitude: A New Way to Quantify Emotion-Related Aspects Relevant
to Marketing. PLoS ONE 6(11): e26782. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0026782
Editor: Wael El-Deredy, University of Manchester, United Kingdom
Received July 12, 2011; Accepted October 4, 2011; Published November 2, 2011
Copyright: ? 2011 Walla et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits
unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Funding: This study was financially supported (money to pay subjects for participation) by the Bank Austria through Wolfgang Ruediger. The funders had no role
in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Competing Interests: The authors have read the journal’s policy and have the following conflicts. The Bank Austria (through Wolfgang Ruediger) gave the
authors money to pay the study participants for their participation. The content of the study has no specific relation to the Bank Austria. Financial support was
only given to be acknowledged. Peter Walla is offering neuroconsulting services through the company Neuroconsult. He is not employed, but is the founder of
this company. Some of the work was undertaken in the frame of this company, which is why it has to be included in the affiliation section. This does not alter the
authors’ adherence to all the PLoS ONE policies on sharing data and materials.
* E-mail: email@example.com
These days, our environment not only provides us with stimuli
that have to be evaluated to directly protect the conservation of
oneself in order to survive. Instead, a lot of stimuli out there are
not critically important, but still do play a certain role in our
everyday life. Brand names are good examples for such stimuli.
They stand for products sold under their names. They are
associated with knowledge about respective products, with
experience related to companies producing and/or selling them
and supposedly they are also associated with emotions altogether
forming the basis for individual brand attitude. From a company’s
perspective, creating a positive brand attitude is of utmost
importance. The rationale for this circumstance is twofold. First,
the attitude towards an object affects individual object-related
behaviour . Hence, positive attitudes towards a brand are likely
to have a positive impact on purchase behaviour and brand
loyalty. Second, the strategy to promote positive affective
responses to a brand can increase its value which in turn is the
basis for high brand equity and brand profitability [2,3]. In the
long run, consumer attitudes towards a brand can significantly
shape a firm’s economical performance. Given its predominant
value for explaining consumer behaviour and brand-related issues,
any research about brand attitude has always ranked high on the
agenda. In the majority of studies, brand attitude either served as
antecedent to purchase intention [4,5] or as dependent variable
when testing for various effects in advertising [2,6].
However, given the vast amount of research including brand
attitude to explain and predict other phenomena, there is a
surprisingly small amount of conceptual and empirical discussions
on the concept of brand attitude itself. Brand attitude comprises
cognitive aspects in terms of brand associations  as well as a
strong emotional component . It encompasses the extent to
which a firm is able to create emotional ties with the customer .
In 2006 , it was demonstrated that culturally familiar brands
elicit prefrontal cortex activity. This finding could already be taken
as objective physiological evidence that emotion plays a big role
with respect to brand attitude, because among various other
functions the prefrontal cortex is involved in emotion-related
PLoS ONE | www.plosone.org1November 2011 | Volume 6 | Issue 11 | e26782
information processing. Brand attitude has traditionally been
measured by rating or evaluative semantic differential scales [11–
13]. These types of measures indicate the respondent’s attitude
towards the brand after a cognitive evaluation procedure.
Although these measures are capable of capturing cognitive
aspects like brand associations and informational aspects stored in
memory, they fail to fully tap into the motivational and emotional
facet of brand attitude.
2. Cognition and Emotion
Although largely viewed as separate functions, emotion and
cognition are more and more considered interdependent. More
precisely, it is believed that they influence each other while their
merged output drives decision making and finally behaviour . It
was argued that at some point of information processing in the
human brain, functional specialisation is lost whereat emotion and
cognition conjointly contribute to the control of thought and
behaviour . This is where it usually gets difficult to track down
only one or the other by using traditional methods. Nevertheless, it is
assumed for the purpose of the present study that before that point
arrives both functions provide their separate contributions to
information processing and it must be possible to define them
separately. Cognition-related aspects may be defined easier by
traditional approaches because cognition is more tightly linked with
language information processing. On the other hand, emotion is
rather vague and abstract and therefore more difficult to describe.
There might even be a hemispheric difference separating these two
major functions. Cognition as a language-related type of evaluation
may be processed predominantly by the left hemisphere while
emotion is not primarily tied to language and rather processed by the
right hemisphere. Only recently, neuroeconomics as an interdisci-
plinary blend of applying methods from neuroscience to resolve
roles of emotion and cognition in purchase decision-making in more
detail . The present study now evaluates and introduces an
objective method known to be sensitive to emotion-related aspects of
a stimulus, a method called startle reflex modulation.
3. Startle reflex modulation
Applied Neuroscience offers a number of ways to focus on
emotion-related processing in the human brain. Besides common
brain imaging methods such as electroencephalography (EEG)
[17,18], magnetoencephalography (MEG) [19–21], functional
Magnet Resonance Imaging (fMRI)  and Positron Emission
Tomography (PET) , startle reflex modulation is known to be
a measure of emotion in terms of motivational aspects (valence;
approach or avoidance) without demanding explicit responses
[24,25]. In the late 1980s, after many pioneer investigations in
rodents it was found that humans demonstrate a modulated startle
reflex as a function of emotional valence as reflected in degrees of
pleasantness . Since then, the magnitude of an eye blink as a
response to loud and short acoustic white noise was mostly taken
as a measure of startle reflex strength. Strikingly, eye blink
amplitude is reduced in case of positive emotion (pleasant) whereas
it is increased in case of negative emotion (unpleasant) . It was
even shown that rapid changes in emotion valence (or pleasant-
ness) related to so-called lead stimuli (foreground emotional stimuli
a participant is exposed to) are reflected in eye blink amplitudes as
startle responses [28,29]. For example, random presentations of
different facial expressions led to corresponding modulations of
eye blink amplitudes [30,31].
Besides the objective nature of this method (no language-related
explicit responses have to be given by study participants) the
crucial advantage of startle reflex modulation is its independence
from cognitive information processing and from arousal. It was
demonstrated in 1988  that only startle responses followed the
pattern of study participant’s self report about emotional valence,
whereas arousal, interest, viewing time and skin conductance data
did not allow to distinguish between negative and positive
emotional valence. Despite some arousal-related influences that
occur, the main sensitivity of startle responses is in the valence
domain. They increase with negative valence and decrease with
positive valence. Skin conductance though, indicating sweat gland
activity, increases with higher levels of arousal independent of
emotional valence. Thus, modulated startle responses rather
reflect changes in the valence dimension whereas different skin
conductance values reflect different levels of arousal.
The fact that startle responses quickly adapt to changing
emotion context together with its independency from cognitive
influence makes it an ideal tool to quantify emotion (with respect
to motivational aspects) on a fine graded scale.
We therefore formed the hypothesis that ongoing visual
perception of strongly liked brand names elicits less pronounced
startle responses compared to ongoing visual perception of strongly
disliked brand names. Accordingto the abovementioned features of
startle responses we further link any such significant findings with
differences in emotion-related (valence) information processing
initiated during visual perception of known brand names.
4. Additional Psychophysiology
Besides startle reflex modulation, two traditional measures in
psychophysiology, skin conductance and heart rate, are also
known to be sensitive to certain aspects of emotion . However,
these measures are more vulnerable to other factors such as
arousal than is startle reflex modulation. Nevertheless, they
provide further insight into physiological alterations in response
to emotion-related stimulation and were therefore chosen in
addition to startle reflex modulation in the present study.
The hypothesis here is that both heart rate and skin
conductance differ significantly while being recorded during
ongoing visual perception of written brand names as a function
of prior stated subjective preference.
This study was conducted by using non-invasive methods, thus
no local ethics committee was needed to carry it out at our
institution. However, it was ethically approved by the head and by
the deputy head of the Biological Psychology Unit of the Faculty of
Psychology. In addition, written informed consent was given by all
participants who could withdraw at any time during the
experiment without any negative consequences.
29 young and healthy study participants volunteered in the
present study. 8 participants had to be excluded from the analysis
because of unwanted muscle-artefacts, no clear startle responses or
too many missing values. The mean age of the remaining 21
participants (14 Females) was 28.14 (SD=6.29). They were all
right handed and with normal or corrected to normal vision. All
volunteers were paid for participation which was possible due to a
generous financial support by the Austrian Bank Bank Austria (see
acknowledgements). They all gave their written informed consent.
300 common brand names (common in German speaking
countries) were put together on a list on the basis of subjective
Objective Emotion Related to Brand Attitude
PLoS ONE | www.plosone.org2November 2011 | Volume 6 | Issue 11 | e26782
selection by the experimenters. These brand names were all
presented through an online survey using the EFS Survey solution
offered by Globalpark (www.globalpark.com). This online survey
allowed study participants to rate all brand names according to
individual attitude (like or dislike). For this purpose each brand
name was simultaneously presented with a slider scale ranging
from 1 to 21 (almost analogue). A bar could be placed at one of the
fine grades between the extremes by using a computer mouse. The
left side was meant to rate for dislike-related intensity while the
right side was meant to rate for like-related intensity. As a
consequence of this pre-evaluation we were able to identify the 10
most liked and the 10 most disliked brand names out of the entire
list for every participant (individual extreme attitude ratings).
These individual sets of 20 brand names were then introduced as
independent variables (target brands) in a following startle reflex
modulation experiment which also included measures of skin
conductance and heart rate. For every participant a separate list
was created including individual target brand names mixed up
with 180 non-target brand names (filler items). The order of target
and non-target brand names was randomised between partici-
3. Physiological measurements
3.1. Startle Reflex.
elicited by a 50 ms burst of acoustic white noise at 105 dB sound
pressure level delivered through professional headphones (AKG)
fully covering both ears. Sound pressure level was measured with a
mobile measuring device (produced by Voltcraft). To achieve the
respective loudness a commercial headphone pre-amplifier was
electromyography (EMG) carried out with a Nexus-10 mobile
recording system (by Mind Media BV) muscle potential changes of
the musculus orbicularis oculi of the left eye of every study participant
were measured and stored on the hard drive of a lab top
computer. We used a dual channel electrode cable with carbon
coating and active shielding technology for low noise and an
additional ground electrode cable. EMG sampling rate was 2048
per s. A band pass filter from 20 Hz to 500 Hz was applied during
online recording. Raw EMG data were then recalculated by using
the root mean square (RMS) method to transform EMG signals
into amplitudes. The resulting amplitudes were then subject to
3.2. Skin conductance and heart rate.
was recorded at a rate of 32 samples/s with a Nexus-10-SC/GSR
sensor (Two finger sensor) connected to the Nexus-10 recording
system with a 24 bit resolution which is able to register changes of
less than 0.0001 microsiemens. We attached one sensor to the
middle finger and the other sensor to the ring finger of the left
Heart rate was calculated from the raw blood volume pulse
signal recorded at a rate of 32samples/s with a Nexus-10-Blood
Volume Pulse sensor. This sensor works with near infrared light, a
method known as photoplethysmography. It was also connected to
the Nexus-10 recording system and attached to the left index
Eye blinks as startle responses were
After arriving at the lab every participant was seated on a
comfortable chair viewing a computer monitor which was placed
in front of them on a desk. It was all set up in a specially designed
experiment room with a computer monitor on a table and one
chair. A door could be closed to leave each study participant alone
to fully concentrate on the task. All stimulus presentation and
physiological signal recording could be controlled from outside.
The procedure was explained to the participants while all sensors
were attached, the cables connected to the recording system and
all computers and monitors turned on. To visually present the
individually prepared stimulus lists we used the software Biotrace+
(Mind Media BV). Each brand name (white letters on black
background) was presented for 5 s with an inter stimulus interval
of 2 s. Between stimuli a black screen with a fixation cross in the
centre was shown. As mentioned above, stimulus lists were created
individually based on each subject’s online rating. Thus, lists
differed between subjects. The 180 filler brand names were
randomly mixed with the 20 individual brand names for every
subject. All 20 target brand names were associated with a startle
probe at 4.2 s after their onset. Inter stimulus interval between
startle probes was kept between 40 s and 70 s to avoid unwanted
startle habituation effects. This was done although it was
demonstrated that the modulatory influence of the startle reflex
is much less subject to habituation than is the obligatory startle
pathway . In other words, startle responses keep their
sensitivity to reflect emotion valence even if they habituate with
respect to startle stimulation as such.
The instruction given to study participants was to read each
brand name and to rate their buying intention on a five-graded
scale. This instruction was simply used to keep our participant’s
conscious attention focused on the brand names. All participants
were naive to the nature of the experiment before being contacted,
but they were fully informed shortly before actual testing.
BioTrace+ was also used to manage data registration and
following data pre processing before statistical analysis.
5. Data processing
5.1. Startle reflex data.
potential) following startle stimulations (20 per participant) were
recalculated into amplitude signals by using the root mean square
method (RMS) for all study participants (as implemented in the
software Biotrace+) (figure 1). For computing RMS an epoch size
of 1/16 s was used. The transformation of raw EMG signals into
amplitude signals is common practise within startle response
modulation research, because an amplitude signal is simply one
construction. All resulting relative eye blink amplitudes were
visually inspected. In case of obviously bad signal-to-noise ratios
resulting in no visible signal amplitudes respective data were not
taken into account for further analysis. Individual data were only
entered into statistical analysis if at least 6 out of a maximum of 10
amplitudes for each of the two conditions were evident (liked and
disliked brand names). Only a few missing values occurred in 5
subjects. These missing values were replaced by means of existing
values from each respective condition. The final data set included
10 single eye blink amplitudes for liked and further 10 single eye
blink amplitudes for disliked brand names per participant. Finally,
these eye blink amplitudes were subject to statistical analysis in
terms of repeated measures ANOVA to calculate condition main
effect significance. Effect sizes were also calculated to better
interpret statistical findings.
5.2. Skin conductance and heart rate data.
conductance values (in microsiemens) as well as mean heart rate
values (in beats per minute) were calculated for time windows
starting from the onset of brand name presentation until 4 s after
the onset for all 20 target brands. No missing values occurred. The
final data sets each included 10 single skin conductance or heart
rate values for liked brand names and further 10 single skin
conductance or heart rate values for disliked brand names. These
two separate data sets were then subject to statistical analysis in
terms of repeated measures ANOVA to calculate condition main
All raw EMG signals (changes in
Objective Emotion Related to Brand Attitude
PLoS ONE | www.plosone.org3November 2011 | Volume 6 | Issue 11 | e26782
effect significance. Effect sizes were also calculated to better
interpret statistical findings.
1. Startle reflex modulation
The mean eye blink amplitude during visual presentations of
liked brand names across all study participants was 31.98 mV
RMS (SD=22.4). The mean eye blink amplitude related to visual
presentations of disliked brand names across all study participants
was 34.94 mV RMS (SD=20.94). Repeated measures ANOVA
revealed a significant condition main effect on eye blink
amplitudes (F=5.110, p=.035, g2=.203). Figure 2 provides bar
2. Skin conductance
We found a significantly reduced skin conductance value
associated with visual presentations of liked brand names
(mean=3.48 microsiemens, SD=2.02) compared to disliked
brand names (mean=3.583 microsiemens, SD=2.08) Repeated
measures ANOVA revealed a significant condition main effect
(F=12.581, p=.002, g2=.386). Despite relatively high standard
deviations because of inter individual differences, within-subject
analysis revealed a significant condition main effect. Figure 3
shows a respective bar diagram.
3. Heart rate
We found a strong trend towards a significantly reduced heart
rate associated with visual presentations of liked brand names
(mean=73.97 bpm, SD=8.08) compared to disliked brand names
(mean=75.16 bpm, SD=9.17). Repeated measures ANOVA
revealed an almost significant condition main effect (F=3.970,
p=.060, g2=.166). Figure 4 shows a respective bar diagram.
See table 1 displaying the mean values plus standard deviations
and p-values of all three measures and both conditions.
The present study is meant to contribute to a better
understanding of emotion-related aspects of brand attitudes while
simply reading brand names. Traditionally, attitudes have been
measured via self-report . We know that self report can be
extremely biased to one or the other direction by various
uncontrolled factors. To date, while some still believe in self-
report scales to diagnose people’s attitudes others have already
been using implicit measures to overcome the problem that at least
some aspects of an attitude are not open to introspection . One
of these measures is the so called Implicit Association Test (IAT),
Figure 1. Electromyography: This figure shows the transfer
from a raw EMG signal into an amplitude signal. Amplitude
peaks which reflect eye blink magnitude were subject to statistical
Figure 2. Bar diagram showing mean eye blink amplitudes
related to both conditions of interest, visual presentations of
liked and disliked brand names. Note that mean eye blink
amplitude related to visual presentations of liked brand names was
significantly smaller than mean eye blink amplitude related to visual
presentations of disliked brand names. This reflects more positive
motivation and emotion related to liked brand names compared to
disliked brand names.
Figure 3. Bar diagram showing mean skin conductance
amplitudes related to both conditions of interest, visual
presentations of liked and disliked brand names. Note that
mean skin conductance amplitude related to visual presentations of
liked brand names was significantly smaller than mean skin conduc-
tance related to visual presentations of disliked brand names. Less skin
conductance related to liked brand names might reflect greater
relaxation due to positive associations.
Objective Emotion Related to Brand Attitude
PLoS ONE | www.plosone.org4November 2011 | Volume 6 | Issue 11 | e26782
which has been used to evaluate attitudes without demanding
explicit responses [35–38]. The IAT is solely based on a response-
time-bias being possibly evident in two critical blocks within an
IAT experiment. Although this method may represent a helpful
approach in terms of objective measurements it still cannot
disentangle cognition- from emotion-related information process-
ing. It has already been mentioned in the introduction that
cognitive aspects are easier to determine because cognition is
tightly linked to language whereas emotion is rather vague.
However, emotion aspects are important because emotion-related
information processing has an influence on attitudes and drives
human behaviour to a wide extent. The results of our study
provide insight into new possibilities to reliably quantify emotion-
related information with respect to both known dimensions
valence and arousal. Our study revealed via separate objective
measures that valence is significantly different between liked and
disliked brand names and that also arousal is different between
liked and disliked brand names. Our study thus may provide a new
approach to measure emotion-related information processing for
marketing-relevant questions of interest.
1. Startle reflex modulation
Before actually starting to discuss our findings regarding startle
reflex modulation it should be mentioned that until now it still
remains unclear what exactly modifies the magnitude of startle
responses. However, according to most of the literature it can be
summarised that emotion-related aspects of a foreground stimulus
(also called lead stimulus) are most likely influencing eyeblink
amplitudes as responses to acoustic startle stimulation. There are
reports about various other influences as well, but these seem to
depend on specific circumstances related to stimulation procedures
and instructions given to participants. According to a review about
the psychological significance of human startle eyeblink modifica-
tion by , emotion- and attention-related processes change
eyeblink amplitudes in case of lead stimulus intervals longer than
800 ms. Since we presented our visual target stimuli (brand names)
for 5 s each with our startle probe occurring 4.2 s after their onset
we can assume that emotion- and/or attention-related processes
were the factors modifying eyeblink amplitudes in our study. Since
we did not change any requirements related to attentional
processes (the task was always to focus attention on nothing but
the visually presented brand names) we can rule out any attention-
related effects. Consequently, we interpret our startle reflex
modulation findings in terms of emotion-related influences of
liked and disliked brands.
The startle reflex modulation findings from the present study
can be interpreted in two directions. First of all, they are suggested
to provide empirical evidence that brand attitudes indeed do
contain emotion-related aspects with a specific focus on valence.
This first claim is based on numerous previous investigations using
startle reflex modulation. By using all sorts of emotional
foreground stimuli such as facial expressions, sounds  and
images from the International Affective Picture System  it was
demonstrated that the magnitude of the startle reflex indeed
reflects emotion valence rather than just arousal . As already
mentioned, it was shown that even startle habituation does not
affect the sensitivity of a startle response to be modified as a
function of emotion valence. Clearly, negative emotion enhances a
startle response whereas positive emotion reduces it [42,26]. In our
study, we found significantly smaller eye blink responses when
being startled while viewing strongly liked brand names in contrast
to strongly disliked brand names. It might be helpful to emphasise
that the relatively high standard deviations in our study mirror
great inter-subject variability related to EMG responses. However,
statistical analysis was done on a within-subject basis and therefore
inter-subject variability does not matter. It is concluded that our
findings demonstrate that liked versus disliked brand names indeed
elicit different emotions or degrees of pleasantness (valence) while
being read. Secondly, the present study demonstrates that such
emotion-related information underlying brand attitude can be
quantified without demanding explicit statements about subjective
preferences. The idea to quantify emotion-related information on
a fine graded scale with respect to viewing brand names is
intriguing and potentially leading to various useful applications. By
using startle reflex modulation it was recently shown that emotion-
related information varies as a function of intake of different foods
. The authors found that eating chocolate compared to ice
Figure 4. Bar diagram showing mean heart rate related to both
conditions of interest, visual presentations of liked and
disliked brand names. Note that mean heart rate related to visual
presentations of liked brand names was smaller than mean heart rate
related to visual presentations of disliked brand names. The increased
heart rate related to disliked brand names fits the notion that visual
presentation of disliked brand names elicits negative memories.
Table 1. Descriptive summary of mean values, standard deviations and p-values (t-tests) of all three measurements for both
conditions of interest, liked and disliked brand names.
Mean valuesliked brand namesdisliked brand names p-value
eye blink amplitude31.98 mV RMS (SD=22.4)34.94 mV RMS (SD=20.95) P=.035
skin conductance 3.48 mSiemens (SD=2.02)3.583 mSiemens (SD=2.08) P=.002
heart rate 73.97 bpm (SD=8.08)75.16 bpm (SD=9.17) P=.060
Objective Emotion Related to Brand Attitude
PLoS ONE | www.plosone.org5November 2011 | Volume 6 | Issue 11 | e26782
cream and yoghurt elicited the most positive emotion (highest
degree of pleasantness) in female study participants without asking
them about their feelings during food intake. Another study about
virtual walks through urban environments demonstrated that an
urban district with a high median real estate price elicits smaller
eye blink amplitudes than a district with a low median real estate
price . Thus, it seems that startle reflex modulation can be
used to objectively measure emotion impact in various applied
2. Skin conductance
The skin conductance data from the present study also
demonstrate a clear sensitivity related to subjective brand
preference. Skin conductance was markedly reduced in case of
visual perception of liked brand names versus disliked brand
names. Skin conductance is usually suggested to measure levels of
arousal rather than emotion valence . Strong emotional
situations are associated with the release of acetylcholine within
the sympathetic nervous system which gets active during high
arousal. This release in turn increases eccrine sweat gland activity
which finally increases skin conductance.
In the present study, skin conductance was significantly reduced
in case of viewing liked brand names compared to viewing disliked
brand names. It can therefore be concluded that visual perception
of liked brand names elicited a more relaxing state compared to
disliked brand names. Whereas our startle reflex modulation data
reflect more positive emotion in association with liked brand
names our skin conductance data add that liked brand names elicit
a more relaxing state than disliked brand names.
3. Heart rate
It is known that heart rate in humans varies over time even in
the absence of any changes in physical activity. Besides respiration
rate having an influence on heart rate  it is activity within the
autonomic nervous system which leads to heart rate variability.
Whereas skin conductance is more likely to reflect levels of arousal
changes in heart rate seem to include some aspects related to
emotion valence . However, the situation seems a bit
ambiguous since increases in heart rate were found related to
negative emotion, but under some circumstances also related to
positive emotion. However, surprisingly enough, it was nicely
demonstrated the event-related character of heart rate variability
. Even rapid changes in emotion content in the range of a few
seconds resulted in significant heart rate changes in the range of
about 1 beat per minute. In their study, viewing unpleasant
pictures lead to significant decreases in heart rate. On the other
hand, it was found that imagination of an unpleasant event
increases heart rate. Their experiment included recall of previously
presented sentences with personally related fear content . We
found a strong trend towards an increase in heart rate during
visual presentation of known disliked brand names. We conclude
that brand name presentation elicited personal experiences with
these brands. Obviously, in case of disliked brand names the
experiences were rather negative.
4. Final remarks
In particular, the significance of startle reflex modulation could
be successfully demonstrated. Attitudes towards brands contain
describable emotion aspects. Startle reflex modulation offers the
opportunity to get insight into emotion-related aspects of brand
attitude without demanding explicit responses. It overcomes the
weaknesses traditional self-report measures of brand attitude have
to deal with. It overcomes the issue that many responses to attitude
questions may be measurement artefacts created simply because
the question was asked . Self reported emotions will always be
the result of cognitive reflections. With regard to this drawback we
want to create awareness about our theory of cognitive pollution.
Direct questions about one’s emotion are always cognitively
polluted. Although this particular theory was not tested here we
believe that future research will focus on that notion. Finally, we
want to mention that startle reflex modulation may be introduced
into any marketing-related research in the future, because it is a
cheaper and a better method than any brain imaging method
when it comes to quantify emotion on a fine graded scale. Also,
product development and product evaluation can enormously
profit from that.
The authors want to thank Arvina Grahl for her highly appreciated help in
data processing and analysis as well as in critically reading the manuscript.
Thanks also to Wolfgang Ru ¨diger from the BankAustria.
Conceived and designed the experiments: PW GB MK. Performed the
experiments: GB MK. Analyzed the data: PW GB MK. Contributed
reagents/materials/analysis tools: PW GB MK. Wrote the paper: PW GB
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