What happens in our body while reading?

Advanced sensor tracking to measure emotion during reading

As part of the Digital Reader Engagement research project, we have measured what happens with the body when people are reading a digital publication.

While 60 panel members read through the tablet version of Belgian dailies, De Standaard and Het Nieuwsblad, a number of high-tech sensors tracked their individual behavior:

  • The imec Wristband and imec Necklace measured heart rate, skin conductance and body temperature
  • The MIT Pupil Pro mapped eye movements
  • The Kinect registered posture
  • The Twipe NextGen Tablet Reader tracked interaction, motion and user feedback

Readers were also asked to provide direct feedback on their appreciation of the article titles, images and content directly in the apps. After having all these data gathered and stored, an extensive analysis of all the user reactions and interactions with the digital newspaper was made by the Human Computer Interface group of the Software Engineering Faculty of KU Leuven.

Reading a digital newspaper does provoke strong emotional reactions

The video illustrates a number of key lessons we have noted about Reader Engagement and Disengagement:

  • Scanning pages and articles happens very quickly and requires rather limited involvement from the reader
  • Cognitive reading requires strong attention, as a result the human body is calming down
  • Explicit pictures or strong emotional titles provoke strong emotional reactions in the body
  • Bodies show high levels of frustration when readers are confronted to technical complexity, full page ads or complex visuals

Predicting and improving digital reader engagement

The Digital Reader Engagement (DRE) project was conducted by Twipe together with iMinds, Mediahuis and 2 research groups of KU Leuven. It aims to define a new approach to measure and predict digital newspaper readers’ behavior and experience. The business goal is to improve the daily publications by integrating daily editorial insights in the newspaper production process using advanced machine learning.

Using DRE’s project results, together with Mediahuis, we have initiated a follow-up project called the Engagement Insights initiative. This new project aims to improve the daily production of newspapers by integrating engagement insights in the creation process.

The Engagement Insights initiative project was one of the six Belgian projects selected to receive support from Google’s Digital News Initiative Innovation Fund, an incentive from the tech giant to support digital journalism initiatives in Europe. With the funding, we will develop a new engagement insights module and run it across five newspapers from the Mediahuis group.