21? Again? Oh please. What is your emotional signature?

21? Again? Oh please. What is your emotional signature?

21 days to break a habit? No, absolutely not.

21 Emotional states in humans? Not a chance.

5 Human Senses? (No way! There at least 19, maybe as high as 26 or more).

I don’t believe any of it. Round numbers are just too convenient. Even comedy has it’s own ‘special number’ of 28, (thank you Stewart Lee) which is both meaningless and significant. In hospitality, service and retail we live in an increasingly digital world. Yet we don’t yet understand the power of the emotions and the effect of the senses. Even the sense of humour is being distorted by the digital paradigm. We work, shop and play digitally most of the time or at least the digital device is used at some point during these activities.

Emotions (and therefore all our senses) play a massive role in our personal lives, yet as business leaders we often turn a blind eye to the importance emotions have in customer behaviour, attitude and ultimately business success. What is the emotion that your customers leave your shop, business, or restaurant with? What senses have been engaged in a thoughtful and positive manner? The new (2014) business model is to understand the DNA of the Customer Experience. It is now more crucial than ever to know how emotions drive value and ultimately why the customer will return, tell others through social media or even through the old school ‘word of mouth’.

The case for focusing on emotion as a mechanism for building a better experience for customers is a compelling one. The methodology for undertaking the necessary emotional analysis is practical, simple, potentially very effective, and enables organisations to benchmark themselves by sector and model best practice. Most of our daily activities are facilitated, shared by or experienced with some type of digital device. The crucial word in here is the emotional experience.


We all search for meaningful, intriguing or shocking experiences every day of our lives. All these experiences have one thing in common: they are multi-sensory. Giant super stores pump the smell of freshly baked bread into their beautifully welcoming and lit opening portals. The traditional five senses model (sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste) is credited to Aristotle. But humans have a lot more than five senses. The commonly held definition of a sense is any system that consists of a group of sensory cell types that respond to a specific physical phenomenon and that corresponds to a particular group of regions within the brain where the signals are received and interpreted.

So here are the 19 – 26 most likely human senses (and I am not saying there are not more)…

  1. Sight: This technically is two senses given the two distinct types of receptors present, one for color (cones) and one for brightness (rods). (+1 to total)
  2. Taste: This is sometimes argued to be five senses by itself due to the differing types of taste receptors (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami), but generally is just referred to as one sense. For those who don’t know, umami receptors detect the amino acid glutamate, which is a taste generally found in meat and some artificial flavouring. (+ 4)
  3. Touch: This has been found to be distinct from pressure, temperature, pain, and even itch sensors.
  4. Pressure: receptors in our skin and inside our alimentary canal.
  5. Itch: Surprisingly, this is a distinct sensor system from other touch-related senses. See my article on knismesis and gargalesis.
  6. Thermoception: Ability to sense heat and cold. This also is thought of as more than one sense. This is not just because of the two hot/cold receptors, but also because there is a completely different type of thermoceptor, in terms of the mechanism for detection, in the brain.
  7. Sound: Detecting vibrations along some medium, such as air or water that is in contact with your ear drums.
  8. Smell: Yet another of the sensors that work off of a chemical reaction. This sense combines with taste to produce flavors.
  9. Proprioception: This sense gives you the ability to tell where your body parts are, relative to other body parts. This sense is one of the things police officers test when they pull over someone who they think is driving drunk. This sense is used all the time in little ways, such as when you scratch an itch on your foot, but never once look at your foot to see where your hand is relative to your foot.
  10. Tension Sensors: These are found in such places as your muscles and allow the brain the ability to monitor muscle tension.
  11. Nociception: In a word, pain. This was once thought to simply be the result of overloading other senses, such as touch, but this has been found not to be the case and instead, it is its own unique sensory system. There are three distinct types of pain receptors: cutaneous (skin), somatic (bones and joints), and visceral (body organs) (+2)
  12. Equilibrioception: The sense that allows you to keep your balance and sense body movement in terms of acceleration and directional changes. This sense also allows for perceiving gravity. The sensory system for this is found in your inner ears and is called the vestibular labyrinthine system.
  13. Stretch Receptors: These are found in such places as the lungs, bladder, stomach, and the gastrointestinal tract. A type of stretch receptor, that senses dilation of blood vessels, is also often involved in headaches.
  14. Chemoreceptors: These trigger an area of the medulla in the brain that is involved in detecting blood born hormones and drugs. It also is involved in the vomiting reflex.
  15. Thirst: This system more or less allows your body to monitor its hydration level and so your body knows when it should tell you to drink.
  16. Hunger: This system allows your body to detect when you need to eat something.
  17. Being Full: The feeling of satiation (when you feel full after eating) which uses a stomach based neuronal and hormonal control system (involving a ‘brain’ like structure in our stomachs and the hormone Gastrin).
  18. Magentoception: This is the ability to detect magnetic fields, which is principally useful in providing a sense of direction when detecting the Earth’s magnetic field. Unlike most birds, humans do not have a strong magentoception, however, experiments have demonstrated that we do tend to have some sense of magnetic fields.
  19. Time: This one is debated as no singular mechanism has been found that allows people to perceive time. However, experimental data has conclusively shown humans have a startling accurate sense of time, particularly when younger. The mechanism we use for this seems to be a distributed system involving the cerebral cortex, cerebellum, and basal ganglia.

So as companies wake up in late 2014 and begin to understand all 26 (or more) of the senses and how they change the customer emotional experience or theEmotional Signature (as Steven Walden and Kalina Janevska put it rather brilliantly), they will need to examine the rational, subconscious, and emotional elements of an experience. But these are not the most exciting developments. Much more intriguing and perhaps slightly shocking technologies are being developed to help us touch, sniff and taste digitally.

We already have various vibrations on mobile devices to let us know when we perform certain functions. Notice the difference in vibrations (haptic function) when you press the keyboard to when you receive a text or tweet? Soon we will be able to feel textures of fabrics and other materials via the use of ‘microscopic’ vibrations send to our mobile devices.

Do you remember Google Nose? It was one of several April Fools Day jokes created by the company a while ago and pretended we could search for a particular smell and then get a whiff of it through our smartphone. Except Google Nose isn’t a joke anymore. It’s called the oPhone, it’s real, and you’ll be able to buy one before the end of the year.

However, the oPhone hasn’t been created by Google. Instead, it comes from a team of scientists, artists, and generally crazy people who make up the Olfactive Project, alongside art and design center Le Laboratoire in Paris, and a team of students from Harvard University. It’s not just a cool, if slightly bizarre, tech experiment either. There’s a real ethos behind the oPhone.

Apparently, sending each other smells may be a better way to communicate emotions than simply using words, as it removes barriers such as language and culture. The oPhone website talks about global communication, and a world where smells are a moving gesture of friendship. It’s a bit flaky but few people would misinterpret the overall meaning behind the smell of roses, no matter what language they spoke.

Now, although the name suggests we’re going to see a phone, the idea is misleading. It’s a device that connects to a phone. Smells are generated by the oPhone accessory after being selected and sent from your smartphone, like a smelly, wordless text message. The oPhone project has been running for a while,and has been demonstrated several times over the past year..

These digital and sensory combinations (combined with massive changes and speed of development of new technology) will change the emotional landscapes for all businesses. The idea that happy customers are more likely to remain loyal, try new products and services, and spread good news about their experiences has started to catch on. Without emotion, all predictions of value were substantially less accurate.

However, there are some people who do seem to have other senses. Maybe for them the emotional experience of retail, restaurants and hospitality will remain a challenge. How to focus their senses and develop their emotional resonances. For example, there are many people who can sense impending weather changes. And many people feel that they can sense when someone else is looking at them. No scientific proof for any of these senses, yet…but I am sure the is a nice round number waiting to be put into the myth factory. 42.