Scientists at the Harmony Institute Reveal Hidden Links Between Zombies, Brains, and Tweets

October 1, 2012 | The University

October 5, 2012

What does audience engagement mean in the age of social media? Researchers at the Harmony Institute (HI) collaborated with neuroscientists at Columbia University and City College New York to develop a new method for studying neural and social engagement with entertainment in real-time.

Measuring audience response to an episode of the popular AMC zombie series The Walking Dead, researchers found that moments that produced high levels of brain activity also produced high volumes of social response, suggesting a link between compelling content and social media engagement. Yet there were clear points of divergence, indicating that there may be types of content that people respond to, but refrain from sharing or discussing online.

The Harmony Institute worked with online analytics company Crimson Hexagon and Twitter to obtain and query all 19,000 tweets referencing the show during its original airing in 2010. The tweets were sorted in a customized coding scheme that took into account indications of sentiment, humor, and “immersion” or engagement with the subject matter. They were then pegged to 194 narrative units within the episode.

Together with HI, bioengineering faculty and researchers recruited 20 subjects to watch the show while hooked to electroencephalogram (EEG) monitors to measure neural activity. Since measurements were calculated for every second of the show, researchers were able to identify specific moments in the episode that were associated with high levels of activity for three corresponding brain waves, which have previously been linked to attention, affect, and memory encoding.

HI took an innovative, design-centered approach to analyzing and combining the data from each of these sources and developed a custom, interactive data visualization tool to compare brain and social media data with the content of the episode.

Preliminary findings from the study will be publicly released on Harmony Institute’s blog, The Ripple Effect on Friday, October 12, 2012, to correspond with the show’s third season launch.

The Harmony Institute, a New York City-based research center dedicated to studying the influence of entertainment, looks beyond traditional indicators (such as box office and audience size) to reveal entertainment’s social return on investment.

Originally published by PR Newswire