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College of Information and Communications

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Better with biometrics

Posted July 29, 2020
Story and photos by Philicia Thompson, senior public relations major. Reprinted from InterCom.

The Ad Team took second place in this year’s National Student Advertising Competition and it may be thanks to biometric data, a new tool in the college’s arsenal. The CIC now has a fully operational Biometrics and User Experience Lab located in Davis College. It is a multi-purpose research lab that uses cutting-edge sensors to track facial expressions, eye movement, sweat gland stimulation and neuro-electrical activity, which then codes and quantifies participants’ genuine response to a message or stimulus.

Taylor Wen, an Ad Team advisor and the lab’s faculty coordinator, encouraged the team to take advantage of this resource to strategically prepare for their competition. “Without the biometrics lab, I don’t think our campaign would have been nearly as strong,” Jack Landess says.

A senior on the team and self- proclaimed research nerd, Landess was amazed at how detailed the biometric results were. “We were able to break data down second by second and could better understand the thought processes and sentiments participants had,” he says.

Much of traditional communications research uses self-reported or survey data, and while an excellent tool, it is known that participants may give socially desirable responses. Biometric research measures innate physiological responses, and the biometric sensors “uncover processes that are covert in the first place,” Wen says. “By tracking the visual attention or electrodes in the body, biometrics researchers may be able to “tap into the subconscious behavior of individuals in various perspectives.

Current faculty research projects focus on human-computer interaction (such as chatbots), influencer marketing, citizen- compared-to-staff photojournalism and health communications. As anything related to human behavior may be researched in the lab, the possibilities for interdisciplinary and collaborative research are endless.

Not only is the lab an exciting new resource for researchers, it is a priceless opportunity for students. Undergraduate and graduate courses can now be taught in the lab, and students may also access it by assisting with faculty research projects. Access to and knowledge of cutting-edge technologies like these will help advance CIC students even further as they enter the job market.

Having a biometrics lab offers many unique opportunities for the CIC and “there are many ways for it to grow,” Wen says. “We are embracing various research collaborations, hoping to build connections with local communities and helping our students sharpen their research skills to the next level.”

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.