Decoding Humans: Leveraging technology to harness physiological and behavioral data
Decoding Humans is one of the five trends identified by the Communications Trend Radar 2024. Advanced hardware for collecting physiological and behavioral data, combined with AI-based software for data interpretation, is enabling new forms of interaction between the human body, mind, and technology.
Communication leaders should pay close attention to this technology trend, which is already a topic of discussion in strategic management and marketing.
Bridging the gap between human experience and technology
Connecting the human body and mind with digital applications is not a futuristic scenario. Neurotech devices such as brain-computer interfaces and biometric wearables (glasses, earbuds, headsets with EEG technology) can already connect directly to the nervous system – both invasively and non-invasively. The combination of advanced methods from neuroscience and computer science is opening up new ways to collect and mimic physiological data (e.g., heart rate, skin temperature) and behavioral data (e.g., facial expressions). AI-based software is used for data interpretation (e.g., inferring emotions from brain activity).
While originating in neuroscience research for medical applications (e.g., enabling communication for patients with locked-in syndrome), the decreasing cost and improving accuracy of inferences are driving the rapid development of commercial neurotech applications.
Decoding Humans focuses on the emergence of technologies capable of sensing and responding to human thoughts and feelings by recording, interpreting, acting upon, and altering cognitive and emotional states.
Relevance of decoding humans for corporate communications
- Gaining insights into how recipients react to corporate content: By measuring behavioral reactions and physiological responses, communicators can assess the emotional impact of specific messaging activities. This could lead to more effective and engaging stakeholder communications.
- Neurofeedback for personal development: Communication leaders and team members can benefit from neurofeedback, for example, to improve their decision-making skills and stress management. Neurotechnology can help individuals recognize when they are too tired or stressed, and guide them in making better decisions and managing their emotional responses.
- Neurofeedback for training and learning: Neurotech can help to assess the effectiveness of training programs needed to upskill communicators in a rapidly changing media environment. Analyzing brain data helps leaders to identify the most successful training methods and adapt competency development programs in communication departments.
Recommendations for communication leaders and professionals
- Follow the neurotech debate regarding future applications that could infer what a person sees, hears, thinks, feels, or wants by measuring and interpreting physiological and behavioral data—even without their awareness.
- Identify and assess new opportunities for a) measuring the effectiveness and success of communication activities (e.g., in controlled situations such as internal or external events, showrooms), b) creating and conveying personalized and context-specific content, and c) establishing settings for automated corporate communications.
- Utilize advanced methods for personal development and training through real-time feedback based on monitoring systems, biometric wearables, and non-invasive brain–computer interfaces.
- Remain skeptical of bold claims that commercial applications can reliably detect emotional and cognitive states, and be aware of the reputational, legal, and ethical, challenges associated with using such technologies, including concerns about transparency, privacy, and safety.
About the study
For the fourth year running, a research team from the University of Potsdam (Prof. Dr. Stefan Stieglitz and Sünje Clausen,MSc) and Leipzig University (Prof. Dr. Ansgar Zerfaß and Dr Michelle Wloka) conducted an applied research project to identify trends likely to influence communication practices in the near future. They analyzed hundreds of scientific articles, conference contributions, reports and online publications. These were systematically collected, weighted according to their importance for corporate communication and condensed into five trends. The Communications Trend Radar is funded by the Academic Society for Management & Communication.