More than most sports, football is a game of patience. A slow, simmering patience of trash talking and guac dipping until, for a few brief moments, we erupt in manic cheering. As such, it is the perfect entertainment medium to test whether we can identify audience interest through biological arousal. Biometric data, in the form of heart rate, sweat, and breathing rate, provides content creators and advertisers a delicious amount of feedback on what is interesting — and what is dreadfully boring.
The good folks at Fitbit analyzed the heart rate data of users in Seattle and New England, and did indeed find that heart rate jumped during exciting moments in Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Fitbit is one of the most widely worn wearables, and the new Fitbit Charge HR and Fitbit Surge devices take continuous heart monitoring, so it’s a decent measure of how a population experiences an event. For the Super Bowl, the team focused on the greater metropolitan areas of Seattle and Boston.
Sure enough, touchdowns parallel spikes in heart rate for the entire metro. Heart rate continually climbed throughout the game, reaching its explosive peak with New England’s game-clutching interception, where heart rate jumped on average 6.1 beats/minute.
Interestingly enough, Katy Perry’s sexy acid-trip half-time show was the least arousing moment of the game. While we can’t know for sure, there were a lot of steps taken during the first half of her interlude, so it could have been the least watched moment (or the most watched, if you think that it was folks rushing in to watch her perform). There was also a lot of physical activity when Missy Elliot showed up, so one interpretation is that she brought folks back into the TV room.
Careful observers will also notice that Seattle’s heart rate was consistently higher than Boston’s. It’s not because the rainy city of Seattle is a mecca of stress, but more likely “due to the time difference, since HR is usually elevated earlier in the day,” explained a Fitbit spokesperson.
The future of health tracking is all sorts of exciting. I predict that it could spell the end of sexual infidelity and fake orgasms. Biometrics also have applications for movie testing; they could tell the director of a horror movie if and when the audience gets scared out of their seat. The same could be true of a restaurant trying out new dishes. Really, anything where unconscious arousal or boredom is meaningful feedback.
In case you were one of the many folks walking around during the halftime show, here’s a video of Katy Perry singing “Firework” (looks like the NFL has blocked videos of the actual performance):