Mobile Draws Stronger Neurological Responses Than TV (Study)

Facebook IQ commissioned neuromarketing agency SalesBrain to (literally) get inside of its users’ heads.

Facebook IQ commissioned neuromarketing agency SalesBrain to (literally) get inside of its users’ heads.

The social network’s insights arm studied the brain and physiology responses of people shown the same content on smartphones and TVs, focusing on engagement, attention, emotion and retention.

Facebook IQ head of audience insights Helen Crossley (pictured), SalesBrain founder and CEO Christophe Morin and ZESTxLabs president Paul Zak discussed the results in a Facebook IQ post, and highlights follow:


What we have seen is that, with the advent of mobile, we’re moving from fewer bigger, longer moments manufactured by the media and marketing industry to a time when people are manufacturing and consuming their own moments en masse, every day, 365 days a year. Given that people are processing so many moments every day, we sought to understand how exactly people are processing those moments—from a physiological and neurological standpoint—and how that processing varies depending on the screen.

We created a test environment where participants viewed a stimulus while watching a TV show or while scrolling through a Facebook News Feed.

Overall, people were more attentive and tended to feel more positively toward the information presented on a mobile phone than on a TV. With TV, people’s brains were more distracted and had to work harder to process the information. We found that overall, mobile was on par with TV with regards to emotional intensity and engagement. Having said that, emotions and engagement were significantly higher for a couple of the ads. People were equally likely to be as engaged on mobile as they were on TV.


By monitoring the direct response of advertising on people’s brains, on their nervous systems, we are able to pick up objective measurements that we can trust, and understand, and predict the effect of advertising.

We did not expect that the mobile viewing experience would produce more positive emotions. This was surprising. You would assume that because the TV screen is larger than a smartphone screen that the bigger screen would yield a more positive emotional response.

It seems that when viewing a stimulus our neurological systems don’t really require a grandiose experience to feel a response. Overall, the more data that we seem to be exposed to, the more effort is placed on our brain. And in some way, due to its size, the smartphone may provide a more efficient, less energy-demanding experience.

It is our conclusion that the smartphone experience is more immersive than the experience of TV viewing overall. When the same ad stimulus played on a smartphone, the reaction was greater than TV on both attention and positive emotion, and, to some degree, on engagement, which was quite remarkable.


To our knowledge, this is the first time that a neuroscience study has compared ads watched on a mobile device to ads watched on TV.

At the ZESTxLabs, we were then able to observe autonomic measures, such as sweat, heart rate and eye movements, as well as brain activity measured via electroencephalogram (EEG) when they viewed a stimulus on either a smartphone or a TV.

FacebookIQTVvsMobileExperimentDesign FacebookIQTVvsMobileNeurologicalMeasures

And Crossley offered her takeaways for marketers:

  • Don’t overlook mobile: Our physical closeness to the mobile screen has shifted our perception of the size of the device. It is drawing us in to be more attentive and feel more positively about the content that is presented on it and creating opportunities for marketers to connect with people.
  • Maximize your message: Create campaigns that appeal not only to the right senses but also the right screens. Appeal to people who are mobile-minded by being more efficient in your messaging, putting the key message points within the first 10 seconds and taking advantage of cross-screen opportunities to extend your reach.
  • Test your approach: Use a combination of market research techniques to understand the effectiveness of your campaign. By aligning your business objectives and your campaign approach, marketers can evaluate and refine their mobile marketing strategies to best reach the right people.

Readers: Did the results of this study surprise you? David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.