Time Inc. Reveals Brain Study, Preliminary Data Suggests 'Digital Natives' Are In Fact Different

Are people who were born or grew up after the explosion of digital media options that began in the 1990s, wired to use media differently than preceding generations? It's a question that some of Madison Avenue's top research minds have been wondering for years, and soon they may have their first empirical evidence to support the notion that Millennials are different than older media consumers. In an ambitious research project commissioned by Time Inc., neuroscientists are wiring two groups of consumers - Millennials and Boomers - with a battery of biometric technologies that will literally track how their brains respond to media consciously and unconsciously throughout their day. Some preliminary data previewed Monday evening at the Interactive Advertising Bureau's MIXX conference in New York, indicate that the brains of Millennials are, in fact, wired differently for media.

Final data from the study, dubbed "A (Biometric) Day In The Life," will not be released until early 2012, but a glimpse of preliminary findings from two respondents - Rachel, a 23-year-old "digital native," and Dan, a 47-year-old "digital immigrant" - suggests it will reveal profound differences in the way generations process media. Rachel, who cannot live without her smartphone, incessantly multitasks media options, and could care less about television, averaged more emotional engagement, but fewer "peaks" and "valleys" of intensity compared with Dan, a "digital immigrant" who could care less about his smartphone, loves TV, and didn't exhibit one instance of media multitasking in the day he was observed consuming media.



"We like Dan," quipped Betsy Frank, Chief Research and Insights Officer of Time Inc., while presenting the preliminary findings with Dr. Carl Marci, CEO and Chief Science Officer of Boston-based Innerscope Research, which is conducting the study.

Frank implied that Time Inc. like Dan, because he represents the kind of media consumer that has been the foundation of traditional media engagement for properties like Time Inc.'s magazines, whereas Rachel is much flightier, flittering around from media experience to media experience, with lower overall levels of engagement that could present a challenge for the kind of story-tellers that produce or advertise in Time Inc.'s publications.

In fact, a snippet of Rachel's media consumption showed her in her home toggling between her smartphone, her television and a copy of Time magazine, but her highest emotional engagement level occurred when she called her friend to leave a message apologizing for missing her birthday.

Both Rachel and Dan are part of a longer-term study that is following two simultaneous groups of Millennials and Boomers around throughout their media days, with each respondent equipped with a combination of unobtrusive biometric sensors tracking their heart rates, breathing, sweating, as well as a light point-of-view camera that can show and tell what media they are looking at. Those physiological data correlate to unconscious, emotional responses to the media they are exposed to, which is followed up by two in-person interviews, one aided by biometric testing.

Dr. Marci said he believes the preliminary findings will hold up in the final analysis, and that he believes the brains of Millennials are actually "wired" differently than preceding generations.

Frank said those insights are critical for a publisher like Time Inc. and its advertising partners to understand, especially as they begin to migrate their media content from analogue to digital platforms.

Frank has conducted a series of tablet publishing studies to learn about the differences between print and digital media consumption, and she said Time Inc. has created an ongoing panel of tablet users that is part of a new media lab it is poised to launch.

Frank said those insights are crucial to the long-term viability of a media organization like Time Inc., where "storytelling is one of our most cherished assets." She said Time Inc.'s initial research on the subject found that "storytelling matters more than ever" to consumers, but the way they connect to those stories is changing with media technology. She said the goal of "The (Biometric" Day In The Life" study is to learn how those differences stack up by generation so that Time Inc.'s editors and advertisers can find better ways of telling more engaging stories across those media platforms.

Dr. Marci said the project represents the longest field trials ever for Innerscope, noting that previously, a six-hour study biometrically measuring Super Bowl viewers was the longest duration the neuromarketing research firm had conducted.

1 comment about "Time Inc. Reveals Brain Study, Preliminary Data Suggests 'Digital Natives' Are In Fact Different".
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  1. Brian Rock from Network Ten, October 4, 2011 at 6:52 p.m.

    "Dr. Marci said he believes the preliminary findings will hold up in the final analysis, and that he believes the brains of Millennials are actually "wired" differently than preceding generations."

    Is this study going to be able to conclude that Millennials brains are wired differently to Boomers, or is it merely going to be able to say that 23-year-olds' brains are wired differently to 47-year-olds' brains?

    Unless the researchers have data that shows that the Boomers brains operated the same way today as they did 20-30 years ago (they might, but it isn't clear from the article) we don't know if Boomers' brains have always been the way they are now, or if the differences are primarily due to aging.

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