Step into the technological age of research

Date: 19/03/2015 Written by: Rosie 4 minutes to read.
Research focus: Research using eye tracking, apps, and wearables

Technology is constantly evolving and is having an increasing role in our day to day lives. It makes sense that research follows suit, and encorporates this technology into the traditional methods. In this blog we explore how the newest technologies can have an impact in the field of research.

Do all of these technological prompts work? Is there room for improvement? How else can these measures be used to have an impact on behavioural change? Could these be used to target more complicated behaviours? Will people become too dependent on technology to improve their behaviours? We get asked these questions a lot and these are the sorts of questions that you might encounter when looking into carrying out research with a more technological focus. 

We know that technology is becoming more and more advanced, with each day that passes by there are new and exciting advances being made in technology – from smart televisions to smart watches, we’re living in an age that is becoming more consumed by technology. For researchers, not utilising technology that can provide different insights into behaviour is something of a worry. With technology comes adaptation of human behaviour; therefore, researchers of human behaviour must also adapt their approaches. Rather than using a food diary or self-reported questionnaire in understanding a behaviour, there are different tools that allow us as researchers to step forward into a more advanced age.

Eye tracking 

One piece of technology I am interested in - and something we offer our clients is eye tracking. Eye tracking is a tool that can be utilized to provide insight into visual gaze patterns and where individuals look in different scenarios. An eye tracker is traditionally used in a lab setting; participants are seated in front of a monitor of either still or moving pictures. Only recently have there been wearable glasses that can be used to track gaze fixations in settings outside of a lab setting. Wearable glasses with built-in eye tracking software are able to record where individuals look in natural settings.

As mentioned, eye tracking is a means of providing researchers with insight on where individuals look – data could then be used to examine where individuals aren’t looking. By adopting eye tracking into research, researchers could introduce modifications to visual settings and layouts in order to compare how participants behave. For example, if you’re carrying out a campaign on obesity, researchers could put displays (such as adverts, prompts, signs) outside of the shop and/ or on food products and researchers would be able to record if a person connects with the information and if an influence has been made. Eye tracking can test if a behaviour has been affected by simple nudge techniques.


Another area I am interested in is wearables and their potential power in research. Over recent years, wearable technology has been on the rise; gadgets such as the Nike Fuelband, Samsung Gear, and Google Glass make technology headlines on a reoccurring basis. These gadgets are able to provide different information to the user; whether it’s biometric data or if it will rain later today. However, How can these gadgets be utilized to have an impact on behavioural change?

Wearable gadgets are able to feedback information to the individual – however, this information will only be useful if the individual is able to apply this feedback and act upon it. For example, wearable technology could be used to help combat obesity by providing obese individuals with a gadget. The wearable gadget will collect information such as activity levels in addition to biometric data; this could be used to inform individuals of their current health and fitness levels. Whether this will lead to a behaviour change is another topic. For the researcher it can collect useful 'real time' data. 


Finally, another interesting tool of modern research is the use of mobile phone applications (apps) in research. Since the launch of app stores, developers have created several apps from games, to budgeting apps, but there has been a sharp increase in health and fitness apps. Some of these apps are able to link through to social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as linking in with others, providing updates of your logged activity and your progress. Some of these apps also have set reminders, prompting individuals on any upcoming activity they have planned ahead for. For the researcher, apps are interesting as they can be used to record data. Traditionally we might have asked people to record their food diaries on paper. Now we can get people to tap a few buttons and input data quickly and easily using an ap. We can even prompt people to fill it in using push notifications and we can even encourage video submissions via an app. 

We will be blogging more about digital technology and behaviour change in the coming weeks so keep checking back to our website for special features! 

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