The complexity of interpreting emotion in consumer research


While a majority of Package InSight’s consumer packaging studies focus on eye-tracking and in-context shopper attention, more companies are taking the opportunity to dive a little deeper into the customer experience with emotion-recognition studies. For these, we set up interactions between shoppers and packages, film them, and process those videos through facial coding algorithms, assigning participant’s facial movements with a likelihood of denoting a particular emotion. When you do this every few milliseconds for each participant, you start to see trends.

The methodology we use maps the likelihood of seven different emotions: Anger, contempt, disgust, fear, joy, sadness and surprise. And that last one is the most interesting… to me anyway. The research community considers surprise a negative emotion. My first response was, “That’s ridiculous. Surprise is a positive emotion.” But then I got to thinking about it… surprise is one emotion that is almost completely subjective. The surprise you feel when you find a snake in your boot? Pretty negative. The surprise you feel when your co-workers save you a home-baked cookie after you spend the morning running errands? Spectacular. But it’s even more complicated than that. The same interaction can leave people feeling different ways. After all, some people love surprise parties and other people despise them.

As a brand owner, how can you reconcile this subjectivity and ensure positive customer interactions? You obviously always want your product to be the happy surprise in a consumer’s day, not the disappointing one. Lucky for you, effective packaging can help. Proper package sizing prevents slack-fill surprises. Choosing the right level of protective packaging safeguards your product so the consumer gets it intact. And, maybe most importantly, creating your package billboard design that sells your product to people in the 3-5 seconds they spend making a decision at the time of purchase. Your design should be accurate and informative, but it should also create a positive sense of anticipation. Your package builds the excitement, and your product is the payoff.

If you’re not sure if your package is a “Surprise and Delight” or a “Surprise and Disappoint”, Package InSight will help you find out. We recruit real shoppers for in-context eye-tracking in our immersive retail shop, and we will show you how your package stacks up against the competition. Then we’ll show you how to make it better. Contact us at

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