Women Behind Innovation: Dr. Rebecca Von Der Heide

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Since she can remember, Dr. Rebecca Von Der Heide has always asked “why’?

Her passion for understanding the human mind led her to Penn State University, where she earned her Ph.D. and M.S. in Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience and completed two years of postdoctoral neuroscience training at Temple University.  Rebecca also completed two highly competitive fellowships in neuroscience awarded to her by the National Institute of Health and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.  In 2013, she joined the Nielsen Company as Director of Neuroscience for Nielsen’s Atlanta consumer neuroscience lab.

The Edison Awards recently spoke with Tipaldo about her interest in technology, what it’s like to be a woman in her field, and her greatest achievements thus far. Here’s what she had to say: (edited for brevity and clarity)

When did your interest in science begin? 

I was extremely fortunate to have parents that nurtured that curiosity from a young age and sought out opportunities for me to learn. For example, when I was in grammar school, my parents enrolled me in courses for kids at a local college where I learned astronomy, electronics, and how to build and then launch my own rockets. At different points throughout my childhood, my family also raised bees, hatched our own chickens, adopted and raised various abandoned animals, and I was taught how to grow fruits and vegetables. Those activities fostered my love of science and made me extremely curious to understand more about life and how the world worked. As I’ve grown, science and answering the ‘Why’ has continued to be a lifelong passion. I am still constantly seeking out new learning opportunities.

What do you like about your field and what you do? 

One of the things that I love about the field of neuroscience is that we are still constantly exploring and learning more about the brain – how it functions, develops, changes, and responds. The brain still remains a mystery in many ways and it is amazing to have a job where I am one of the scientists on the front lines helping to figure the mystery out.

Do you think people have any misconceptions about what it’s like to be a scientist or about the field itself?

One of the biggest misconceptions I run into is that people think that all neuroscientists are in a lab doing research away shut off away from the rest of the world, which isn’t the case in reality. In my job as a consumer neuroscientist, I am regularly face-to-face with clients, partnering with them to figure out how to design consumer neuroscience studies that will answer their business questions in the most targeted way possible. I do spend time in the lab working with teams on my research studies, but a good portion of my time is face-to-face with other people determining which types of consumer neuroscience research study will answer their question.

To date, what project is your greatest success? What is the story behind that innovation?

In 2016 Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience collaborated with CBS on a major ad testing validation study. I was the neuroscientist on the research team that executed this project. It was an innovative and cutting edge research project that pushed current thinking in the field and made a valuable contribution toward understanding which testing methods are the best to use to understand advertising effectiveness. A major objective of the study was to test individual neuroscience (EEG, Biometrics, Facial Coding, Eye-Tracking) and self-report approaches and understand which tools individually, and in combination, were the best to use to test consumer response and understand the effectiveness of TV ads.  We were also interested in how well the results from these tools could explain lifts in sales. The results of the study showed that although a number of the research tools provide insights and have some link to sales, a combined approach using multiple tools was the strongest approach. This validation study is why the Video Ad Explorer tool we offer at Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience continues to be a combined methods approach where we don’t just use one neuroscience research tool to understand how effective an ad is, but a combination of tools that we know provide the most granular and powerful insights.

More details of this study can be found at: http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/press-room/2016/nielsen-consumer-neuroscience-unveils-trailblazing-ad-testing.html

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