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Tech Trends

Brainwaves for Business

A Japanese professor has come up with a new technology she claims can read minds. She says the brainwave analysis system will help businesses better understand the needs of their customers.

Yasue Mitsukura, an associate professor at Keio University, developed the system. It uses a device to measure brainwaves from the frontal lobes of people as they try out products. Software analyzes 5 levels: approval, interest, concentration, stress and sleepiness.

In a recent test of the system, workers at a major restaurant chain tried out a cheese soufflé topped with fruit that was being developed as a new addition to the menu.

A test subject was asked to close her eyes. The soufflé was uncovered, and the system recorded the reaction when the subject opened her eyes.

The "approval" and "interest" levels surged, indicating she found the dessert visually appealing. The subject was then asked to take a bite. The "approval" level went up to 60, revealing that she liked how the dessert tastes. After another bite, the "approval" level reached 80, showing she really enjoyed the taste. The dish scored high in terms of both looks and taste.

But there was an unexpected problem. When the subject tried to scoop up the fruit topping, her "stress" level soared to 90. She admitted she didn't know where to put her spoon, and felt the dessert was difficult to eat.

The tests revealed it was difficult to scoop up the fruit with the small spoon provided. Now managers with the restaurant chain are considering serving the soufflé with a fork instead. It is an adjustment no one would have thought of without the testing. "The system allows us to measure emotional changes in minute detail, and in real time," says Yutaka Ogawa, an executive with the restaurant chain.

Another company using the brainwave analyzing system is Toppan Forms, a Tokyo-based firm that designs advertising mailers and credit card application forms. It is using the system in an effort to improve layouts and designs.

During a recent test, the brainwave analyzing device was used in addition to an eye tracking device that records where the subject looks.

One subject was asked to fill in a credit card application form. When she looked at one section, her stress level shot up. The researchers determined it was difficult to read the text, as each line contained up to 60 characters. So they decided to divide the section in two, cutting the length of the lines by half.

"This system is very useful for us," says Mitsuru Suganuma, manager of Toppan Forms. "We can offer a differentiated service to our clients by providing science-based solutions."

Professor Mitsukura is now developing a new device that can analyze a total of 17 feelings including satisfaction, achievement and habit-forming pleasure.

"We can combine satisfaction and achievement to create games, or we can use comfort levels to design clothes and beds," she says. "This system offers many possibilities for different businesses as it can analyze many kinds of feelings."

The use of the system to develop products has only just begun, but it may soon be an indispensable tool for product developers working in a variety of fields.

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