Type: Partnership

Zombies, brains, and tweets

The neural and emotional correlates of social media



The Challenge

What does audience engagement mean in the age of social media? Conventional measures of entertainment like viewership and ratings still matter, but the emergence of social media adds new dimensions of participation and interaction to this puzzle. Twitter, in particular, has become a forum for discussing and sharing media events as they unfold, and marketers, advertisers, and social scientists have used this data in innovative ways to transform their fields. Yet much of the research in this area focuses on conversation and overlooks content.


The approach

To address this missing link, researchers at the Harmony Institute collaborated with a team of neuroscientists from City College New York and Columbia University to develop a unique and original method for studying what drives viewer engagement. Rather than merely measure how much people tweet, this study posed the deeper question, “what makes people tweet?” Using the premiere episode of the popular television show The Walking Dead as a case study, researchers compared audience’s neural responses to the show with reactions on Twitter.


The result

In general, moments or scenes that produced high levels of brain activity also produced high volumes of response on social media, suggesting a link between compelling content and social media engagement. However, this relationship is nuanced, and there were moments where brain activity and the volume of posts diverged. This tells us that there may be types of content that people respond to, yet refrain from sharing or discussing online. Further research into this relationship will offer a better understanding of the subtleties inherent in measuring audience engagement with entertainment.