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Beware of the Exam Effect

EEG, Neuromarketing, Research

Beware of the Exam Effect

You probably remember the moment when you finished your exams in high school, and your teacher handed out the results. Bummer… your test had red marks on it. Sadly, this is a familiar situation for many of us.

Unfortunately, the flaming red pen of your high school teacher is probably something you still remember. Even today, in the digital era, you encounter red errors. Whenever you want to shop online and your shipping address is wrong, either the address field will be red, or a red text will show up.



In our research for a client, we found something remarkable regarding the red errors. 

Whenever a customer sees a red error, a negative response occurs in the brain. And actually, that’s not strange at all. After all, who likes a red error? We connect red with ‘wrong’, ‘mistake’ or ‘incorrect’. In fact, we associate red with something that we can’t correct. That is why we call this phenomenon ‘The Exam Effect’.

We wanted to examine if any other color would be friendlier to the brain. We chose orange: a signaling color, but not too negative. Thanks to an A/B test, we found some amazing insights. A tip of the iceberg: this small change led to a significant increase in conversion.

Measuring negative emotions

Thanks to EEG (electroencephalogram) we are able to measure emotions and motivations. EEG can record electrical, neural activity in the form of brain waves. If you are interested to see how that works exactly, I strongly recommend reading this blog about how we use EEG metrics to analyze brain activity.

For almost all our EEG research we use four metrics: Desire, Confusion, Attention and Workload. With the metric Desire, we can see if a specific part of an (online) store is attractive or repulsive in the brain. Other typical research questions are:

Will customers buy a product when they see it in an (online) store?

Will customers return to an (online) store?

By looking at the metric Desire, we see that the Exam Effect scores negatively in the brain.

So, what if you change red into orange? The results of our test showed that this color-change resulted in 15% more conversion, with a certainty of 99%!

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