• The Center mourns the loss of a dear friend and tireless CVL supporter. click here

  • CVL councilmember and benefactor’s life remembered in the Dallas Morning here

  • Aging-themed issue of Nautilus Magazine explores cognitive benefits of learning a new game such as chess, cites here

  • ‘Fitizen’ group at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas learns about research at CVL. click here

  • CVL research published in JoN finds that some memories persist in the face of strong interference. click here

  • Dr. Sara Festini’s research probes busyness levels and cognitive here

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CVL Alumna Sarah Yu Transitions into Consumer Neuroscience

Who said the career paths of the ivory tower only lead to higher floors in the tower? Or that hard lab work leads to a corner office in a bigger lab away from scientific equipment?

Dr. Sarah Yu, a neuroscientist alumna of CVL, has shown that science has a place in business, and perhaps in some respects, business has a place in science.

Dr. Yu was a Ph.D. student and postdoctoral researcher at CVL working under Dr. Michael Rugg, prior to moving to Chicago and taking a job with Nielsen Neuro, the consumer neuroscience division of
Nielsen, a global information company that may be best known for its TV ratings system and measurements of what consumers buy and watch.

At Nielsen Neuro, along with 13 other neuroscientists worldwide, Dr. Yu is part of a team that is probing neural responses elicited when consumers interact with marketing communications – from the neurophysiological responses that accompany an encounter with new product packaging, to the highs and lows of emotion that are experienced during the course of watching a 30 second television ad.
Think of the best Super Bowl ads you’ve seen. Why were they so good? The answer has something to do with how it resonated in the brain.

All of this is being done by Nielsen Neuro to understand what makes advertising effective to the consumer by deploying standard tools that neuroscientists in academia have used for decades (e.g., electroencephalography, or EEG). The EEG is an electrical record of the complex neuronal activity of the brain generated, for example, while seeing a stimulus. In Dr. Yu’s line of work, the stimuli of interest are marketing communications like TV ads, print ads, or new package designs.

“We have the capacity to run 20 to 24 subjects a day, and work with clients in consumer packaged goods, retail, financial services, automotive, and technology industries,” Dr. Yu said one recent afternoon on a return trip to CVL for Dr. Gerard Bischof’s dissertation defense. “The range of my role is wide, from accompanying client service teams to client meetings as a staff expert on cognitive neuroscience and translating highly technical findings into concepts which marketing and creative teams can understand, to designing experiments and interpreting findings that ultimately influence and sometimes determine product direction for our clients.”

Nielsen Neuro’s clients also include non-profits seeking to follow a scientific path in making more appealing consumer messages that will spur change for the good, such as those of the Ad Council, whose various advertising campaigns bring awareness to childhood hunger or pet adoption.

Traditionally, insights on how consumers perceive marketing communications were gathered through responses to surveys, and through focus groups and panels. Nielsen Neuro bypasses such responses and measures directly consumers’ brain responses.

“Using EEG to find out which seconds of a TV ad are most emotionally engaging or which seconds are causing confusion to the viewer is a really powerful tool for our clients, whose goals are to optimize the effectiveness of their marketing material. It’s an ability to find out what works—and what doesn’t—at a very diagnostic and precise level for their advertising.”

In addition to obtaining EEG waveforms from participants, an eye-tracking camera captures where participants’ eyes are drawn while viewing the advertisement.

Dr. Yu credits a big part of her smooth transition into consumer neuroscience research to the training she received with Dr. Rugg and at the CVL.

“The skill I learned from Mick of saying only what I mean and not over-interpreting data is one I use every day when providing science support to my team and with clients,” Dr. Yu said. “I never imagined that my background in basic memory research could have led me to a career in market research. Ultimately it was a great match!”

– Alex Lyda