26.06.2017 change 26.06.2017

Polish researchers have shown why online ads annoy us

Photo: Fotolia Photo: Fotolia

Online ads distract users, which translates into negative emotions caused by the ads - Polish scientists showed.

In the study of the impact of invasive advertising on the level of concentration and emotions experienced by people visiting websites for the first time researchers used electroencephalogram (EEG). The study was conducted by Prof. Izabela Rejer and Dr. Jarosław Jankowski from the Faculty of Computer Science and Information Technology of the West Pomeranian University of Technology in Szczecin.

"Until now, the majority of the research in this area has been subjective and declarative. Researchers only analysed the impact of online advertising on brand awareness and memorization, and studies have been conducted with questionnaires" - Prof. Rejer told PAP.

To test the impact of invasive online ads on the concentration and emotions of users, researchers from Szczecin decided to measure the electrical activity of the brain. Their task was to "attempt to objectify" the assessment of the brain response associated with the effects of invasive advertising on Internet users.

Subjects in the experiment were asked to read and understand the text on web pages. Their attention was distracted by displaying 300x250 pixel ads in the layer over the editorial content. The researchers later controlled the level of understanding of the text with a set of questions related to key aspects of the text. During the experiment, electrical activity of the brain was measured with an electroencephalograph - researchers placed electrodes over the frontal centres of the brain, which are responsible for concentration and emotions.

When analysing the EEG results, the researchers observed two major effects that occurred in all subjects.

"The first was not a surprise - the presence of online ads caused a significant decrease in concentration that manifested itself as a decrease in the strength of beta waves in frontal lobe" - described Prof. Rejer.

The second effect was a surprise for researchers. As they explained, the appearance of an ad on a website caused a strong change in the asymmetry of the intercellular alpha wave in the frontal cortex (asymmetry between the hemispheres means that the wave power in one hemisphere was higher than in the other hemisphere). The direction of these changes varied among the study participants. In some participants alpha wave power was clearly higher in the right hemisphere, in others - in the left hemisphere.

"This may be related to the immunization to such stimuli (invasive online ads - PAP) of heavy Internet users as well as to individual predispositions and adaptation to cognitive disruptions" - added Dr. Jankowski.

In other words, Internet users subconsciously filter advertising content and do not even notice it. This phenomenon is referred to as banner blindness - the researchers point out.

According to the researchers, their study explains "in an empirical and objective way" why the use of invasive messages can adversely affect the perception of online advertising providers.

"Breaking the cognitive process and losing focus associated with reading a web page translates into negative emotions caused by advertising messages. Advertisers should evaluate whether it is worth it to get the user\'s attention at all costs" - the experts from Szczecin concluded.

The course and results of the experiment have been described in the journal "Cognitive Processing".

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