Dr. David Lewis: A brilliant psychologist and Mindlab’s founder

By Duncan Smith

Mindlab has a rich and varied history thanks to our founder Dr. David Lewis; a brilliant psychologist who was recently voted one of the ‘50 Most Influential Psychologists in the World Today’.

He has had an interesting and extensive career including working in medicine, clinical psychology, and photojournalism. In the 1980s, he completed his Neuroscience & Psychology doctorate at Sussex University, and became interested in stress management and the non-clinical uses of EEG to reduce stress. He then later returned to the University as a lecturer in clinical psychology and psychopathology in the Department of Experimental Psychology under Professor Stewart Sutherland. He’s written many books focusing on consumer psychology and other topics, for example “The Brain Sells”.

David’s work using EDA and EEG feedback initially began when he was trying to facilitate a client’s ability to relax and overcome anxieties and phobias, which was also his primary area of research interest. At the time, the only portable machine available which allowed you to obtain data using EEG was the ‘Mind Mirror’,  produced by London psychologist Maxwell Cade and his business partner, specialists in designing and building broadcast radio microphones. This great piece of technology gave readouts of the different frequencies of brain activity using a series of LED lights, and David’s team designed software which enabled them to create bar charts to quantify these frequencies on a computer.

Image description: David using the Mind Mirror.

David’s interest in finding a suitable stimulus for working with the Mind Mirror led him to consider using television adverts, on the grounds that they had been designed to catch and hold the attention of viewers, and usually only lasted up to 30 seconds. He wrote to a number of production companies and advertising agencies and obtained a suitable set of adverts for testing. The inaugural test of his system took place at Sussex University when his nephew, then an 18 year old university student and later to become a senior producer with Apple TV, tested around 40 adult students who were attending an Open University course being held on campus during the summer break. This early work using EEG to monitor brain activity whilst watching advertisements was featured on the BBC programme ‘Tomorrow’s World’ in 1992 and was one of the first known incidences of ‘Neuromarketing’.

David published various papers of this work and later included part of this research in his book ‘The Soul of the New Consumer’, which he wrote with one of his colleagues at the time and which attracted considerable attention among commercial organisations keen to understand the quantifiable impact of TV adverts.

Not long afterwards he was contacted by a London marketing firm interested in setting up a company specialising in this form of monitoring. The company Neuroco was duly formed and was later taken over by an American firm with very deep pockets and a dream.

In 2007, Duncan Smith joined Mindlab and set up a lab at the Sussex Innovation Centre on the Sussex University campus and they are still there 15 years later. Mindlab continued to use neuroscience based lab technologies for a few years with their Director of Innovation, Joe Hilling but scalability was becoming an issue. The advent of robust online consumer panels opened the door to quantitative testing of global audiences so Mindlab pivoted to psychology-based tools and implicit testing at scale.

Traditional market research asks people what they think directly, through focus groups or surveys but the truth is we don’t always know why we make the decisions we do.  At Mindlab, we love the quote by the advertising tycoon, David Ogilvy:

 “people don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what they think and they don’t do what they say”  

This tells us, at the very least, that we are not 100% aware of what’s driving our decisions and our choices.


Image description: David Lewis demonstrating an EEG powered train set


Image description: Joe Hilling testing out the EEG caps

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