High-tech EEG headset lets you shop subconsciously

  • eBay has been conducting research into the effect of shopping on the brain
  • FEMAIL writer Unity Blott tries out an EEG headset that tracks your brainwaves while browsing items and measures levels of 'pleasure hormone' dopamine
  • Emerging technology is designed to help shoppers make better purchases
  • Retailers will soon be able to automatically add products you like to your cart

By Unity Blott For Mailonline

Published: 03:39 EDT, 13 October 2017 | Updated: 06:43 EDT, 13 October 2017

All women will be familiar with that rush of excitement that comes when you lay eyes on the perfect LBD or pair of heels.

But what if technology could harness that instinctive surge of emotion to help you make the right purchase - without so much as a click of a button? 

The unstoppable rise of online shopping means we are overwhelmed by choice - a search for 'black dress' turns up 35 million results - but increasingly, retailers are using neuroscience to predict our needs and help us filter through the myriad options available at our fingertips.

Eventually, online retailers may even be able to automatically place items into our shopping cart based on our brain signals. 

eBay is the latest shopping giant to dabble in artificial intelligence, with the web giant currently looking into how a shopper's psychological responses to different items inform their purchases. 

Now, the site has partnered with brain technology company MyndPlay, using electroencephalogram (EEG) headsets to research the effects of shopping on the brain.

So can these clever headsets really help us shop smarter - and better still, provide proof that clothes really can make us happy? FEMAIL decided to find out.

Credit cards at the ready: FEMAIL writer Unity Blott tries out the electroencephalogram (EEG) headset and takes to eBay to track her brain's response to different items
Credit cards at the ready: FEMAIL writer Unity Blott tries out the electroencephalogram (EEG) headset and takes to eBay to track her brain's response to different items

Credit cards at the ready: FEMAIL writer Unity Blott tries out the electroencephalogram (EEG) headset and takes to eBay to track her brain's response to different items

Last week, eBay rolled out the headsets for a pop-up art show in partnership with Saatchi Art, with shoppers being presented with a 'tailored shopping basket' afterwards based on their likes and dislikes.

So in a bid to see how the 'subconscious shopping experience' could work in practice, MailOnline were given the chance to try out the headsets exclusively at their London offices.

Femail writer Unity Blott set out to see which items she connected with the most - and how this compared to what she'd normally choose when hitting the shops.

Femail test-runs the first subconscious shopping experience 

To get started, Myndplay founder Tre Azam hooks me up to a MyndBand EEG Brainwave Headset that will track my brain's response to different items.  

The EEG headset is hooked up to software called Peak BrainHappiness on one laptop (right), as Unity browses clothing and accessories on eBay on a second (left)
The EEG headset is hooked up to software called Peak BrainHappiness on one laptop (right), as Unity browses clothing and accessories on eBay on a second (left)

The EEG headset is hooked up to software called Peak BrainHappiness on one laptop (right), as Unity browses clothing and accessories on eBay on a second (left)

Unity examines a silver tote. The shiny silver number appeared to have caught her eye - leading to an initial spike - before dipping as she imagined herself carrying it in real life
Unity examines a silver tote. The shiny silver number appeared to have caught her eye - leading to an initial spike - before dipping as she imagined herself carrying it in real life

Unity examines a silver tote. The shiny silver number appeared to have caught her eye - leading to an initial spike - before dipping as she imagined herself carrying it in real life

Using an algorithm called the 'Neureka!' or 'Joy' protocol - developed by Dr Jon Cowan - it monitors gamma frequency which is linked to the release of 'pleasure hormone' dopamine in my brain - with a spike indicating a particular item has caught my eye.

The headset is hooked up to software called Peak BrainHappiness on one laptop, as I browse clothing on eBay on a second.

We narrow it down to four categories - bags, coats, shoes and dresses - and I pick three items from each to consider, all priced within a realistic budget of £50 to £200. So can this clever software really predict my personal style?

Myndplay founder Tre Azam talks Unity through the software. It monitors brainwaves which are linked to the release of 'pleasure hormone' dopamine in the brain
Myndplay founder Tre Azam talks Unity through the software. It monitors brainwaves which are linked to the release of 'pleasure hormone' dopamine in the brain

Myndplay founder Tre Azam talks Unity through the software. It monitors brainwaves which are linked to the release of 'pleasure hormone' dopamine in the brain

According to the software, this red dress (pictured) provokes an ambivalent reaction - while a grey sequin number fares the same, and a black zip-up dress produces a visible dip
According to the software, this red dress (pictured) provokes an ambivalent reaction - while a grey sequin number fares the same, and a black zip-up dress produces a visible dip

According to the software, this red dress (pictured) provokes an ambivalent reaction - while a grey sequin number fares the same, and a black zip-up dress produces a visible dip

How 'subconscious shopping' works

Tre compared Unity's reaction to looking at different clothes and accessories online
Tre compared Unity's reaction to looking at different clothes and accessories online

Tre compared Unity's reaction to looking at different clothes and accessories online

The MyndBand EEG Brainwave Headset (£179) can transmit 'neurofeedback' from your brain to the screen.

Using a dry sensor on the forehead and two on the ear, it measures brain activity - in this case brainwaves linked to 'pleasure hormone' dopamine - which is then transmitted via Bluetooth to a computer, tablet or phone.

For the experiment, we compared brain activity as Unity looked at different items and compared the results - helping to decipher which items made her the happiest.

A study by eBay found that 'inspired' shoppers experienced a prolonged high at check-out, comparable to the high felt by a Formula 1 driver finishing a circuit.

In years to come, it is hoped this technology will enable customers to shop 'smarter' by filtering out products they don't like and helping them make more 'inspired' purchases.

BAGS

To kick the experiment off we look at bags - a silver tote, a brown leather satchel and a black shopper. They're all a simple leather design and something I could imagine carrying to work; nothing too extravagant.

Tre instructs me to spend a few seconds looking at each one as he watches my brain's reaction flash up on a screen.

He urges me to imagine spotting the bag in a shop, carrying it on my shoulder and showing it off to my friends.

The results are clear - a huge spike for the brown satchel, while the other two bags provoked a visibly underwhelming response.

It's true that the chic tan number piqued my interest more than the others. Interestingly, the shiny silver number appeared to have caught my eye in the first instance - leading to an initial spike - before dipping as I imagine myself carrying it in real life.

Despite an initial spike, the silver tote (left) failed to yield as strong results as the satchel
Despite an initial spike, the silver tote (left) failed to yield as strong results as the satchel

Despite an initial spike, the silver tote (left) failed to yield as strong results as the satchel

DRESSES

For the dresses, I pick three styles that I'd wear for different occasions - a smart red work dress, an LBD for a night out and a sequinned silver number that's perfect for a wedding or party. 

The red dress provokes an ambivalent reaction - perhaps imagining the figure-hugging cut would be unflattering on me - and the grey sequin number fared the same.

But the black dress, with its low-cut neckline and rib detail, sparks a huge dip - probably because the zip-up number isn't something I'd normally wear.

While the red and grey dresses provoked a good response, the black  dress resulted in a dip
While the red and grey dresses provoked a good response, the black  dress resulted in a dip

While the red and grey dresses provoked a good response, the black dress resulted in a dip

SHOES

I opt for three plain black styles - heels, loafers and a pair of black patent boots I've had my eye on for a while - curious to see whether the software would single the latter out as my favourites.

Despite my better judgement, the heels - arguably the least comfortable option of the three - provoke a huge rush of excitement when they flash up on the screen.

By contrast, the boots I like so much come second, followed by the croc-effect loafers.

To make sure the results are accurate, Tre tells me to look at all three again one by one - and again the heels emerge victorious. Maybe my brain is trying to tell me something. 

After a false start - and despite Unity singling out the patent boots (right) as her favourite - it was ultimately the heels that led to a rush of dopamine according to the graph
After a false start - and despite Unity singling out the patent boots (right) as her favourite - it was ultimately the heels that led to a rush of dopamine according to the graph

After a false start - and despite Unity singling out the patent boots (right) as her favourite - it was ultimately the heels that led to a rush of dopamine according to the graph

COATS 

I pick out three different winter styles not dissimilar to items I have in my wardrobe - a black leather biker, a camel coat and and a parka with a fluffy hood.

This category yields the most surprising results of the three, with the parka and its sumptuous fur lining emerging as the clear winner.

In real life, I'd probably have picked the camel coat as it's the most conservative and versatile of the three - but my brain's reaction suggests it's the parka that would make me the happiest. 

The furry parka (far right) emerged as the clear winner over the biker jacket and camel coat
The furry parka (far right) emerged as the clear winner over the biker jacket and camel coat

The furry parka (far right) emerged as the clear winner over the biker jacket and camel coat

The verdict

This eye-opening experiment left me questioning whether I really know what it is I want when I hit the shops.

Unity gets hooked up to the EEG headset
Unity gets hooked up to the EEG headset

Unity gets hooked up to the EEG headset

However, I did notice one worrying theme in across the results: the items that provoked the biggest spike in pleasure were invariably the most frivolous.

From the furry parka to the shoes I'd struggle to walk in, they sparked a rush of excitement akin to buying a pair of expensive stilettos that fill you with joy but are destined to gather dust at the back of your wardrobe forevermore.

It will be a while before the software is rolled across mainstream e-tailers, and that's probably for the best - the prospect of a virtual shopping basket automatically filling up with pretty yet impractical accessories can only be bad news for our credit cards.

Either way, if that leather satchel is scientifically proven to make me happy then who am I to argue? 


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