Measuring Emotions in UX with EEG’s


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Every day we all feel a variety of emotions. And they vary depending on what tasks we try to accomplish. When it comes to usability testing, how do researchers know how users are feeling at each step of a task?

Emotions in design can be measured in a variety of ways such as: self-reporting, uncovering implicit feelings, and by measuring non-conscious reactions. Self- reported techniques is the most simple and direct approach and is done by asking users how they feel. An example of this being the star rating in iTunes to rate apps. Uncovering a user’s implicit feelings is done by asking a user to describe how they feel, and researchers infer their feelings based on the user’s word choice. For example, going on Twitter or another platform and see what users are saying about a certain product or brand. (Reynolds).

The last way to measure emotion is a bit more technical, and that is by measuring a user’s non-conscious reactions through analyzing a user’s physical responses. The previous techniques rely on users to answer consciously the different emotions they experience, by measuring their non-conscious reactions, researchers can discover emotions felt, that the user themselves may not have been aware of. Andrew Schall’s article discusses the different technologies to test this. There are different types of technology to conduct this research some of which are eye- tracking, galvanic skin responses, facial recognition, and electroencephalography (EEG).

EEG technology measures electrical activity in the brain by having the user wear a special headset with electrodes, while they are doing a task. The signals obtained are analyzed and that data is interpreted into different emotions that the user is experiencing. For instance, a spike can indicate excitement, while a drop could indicate a negative emotion.

There are a number of pros of using EEG to measure emotion and engagement. One is that it delivers responses in real time. While another is that it can detect even very subtle signals. One downside is however, that unless the researcher has special software to read the signals, the researcher would have to be well versed in reading the signals.

What are the things researchers have to keep a look out on when doing this sort of study? The first thing is long and short-term excitement. This is detected by the length of up spikes in signal activity and can be tied to a specific event (short term) or a more stable state (long term). Another is engagement, which can be detected by a user’s alertness, interest, and stimulation to the task. The last thing to look out for is a user’s frustration. This is important to note, as negative experiences tend to stick more stubbornly in a user’s memory and could have negative effects on the brand/site/ or product if changes aren’t made. (Kowalewski).  Overall, when it comes to non-conscious emotions, while EEG’s can read the signals in the brain, which can still only tell so much. It is useful to try and do one of the other methods as well when testing.


Kowalewski, R. (2017, January 26th). Can emotional testing be valuable to a usability study? Retrieved from


Reynolds, A. (2017, October 14th). How to measure emotion in design. [blog]. Retrieved from


Schall, A. (2015, April). The future of UX research: Uncovering the true emotions of our users. In UX User Experience. Retrieved from