Unired: how to measure the effectiveness of a dietary supplement by listening to people

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The real value of each project is contained in its ability to answer questions, which conceal needs, requirements and desires. And the value is all the greater when these questions, which each company asks itself, coincide with those of their customers. So what questions do pharmaceutical companies, or more generally companies in the health & wellness sector, ask themselves? Certainly, one of the most tracked and monitored is: how much is our product doing its job by helping those who take it? In business terms: how effective is it? But at the same time we can ask ourselves: how much is this effectiveness perceived?

A famous advertising spot began with the phrase “against the wear and tear of modern life…”. And it’s true: a hectic daily life can lead to a whole series of small annoying symptoms that affect a person’s well-being. In order to counteract these symptoms, we tend to look for solutions that help us compensate for our lack of energy, such as food supplements. We as well, as weakened researchers, would like to know whether the supplement we rely on to make us feel better is really effective, or if it brings us a benefit, thanks to the active ingredient or to the classic placebo effect.

The supplement study with Unired: what we want to find out from people

So how can we discover the effectiveness of a supplement? The opportunity arose thanks to a collaboration with the University of Padua, specifically UniRed, which brought a similar matter to our attention: we investigated the effectiveness of a new food supplement and the perception of it, directly involving the people who use this kind of product.

To validate the results of an internal test, we conducted both a qualitative and quantitative survey – based on data collected using psychophysiological detection instruments. The study was structured longitudinally, with a duration of two months and segmented into several phases.


Phases of the study on the dietary supplement

The study methodology: how to listen

Phase zero: the selection of study participants

The phase 0 was participant profiling. In this phase, we looked for 100 people who had mild symptoms related to a poor well-being, but not related to any type of prior disease. For example:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Stomach acid
  • Stomachache

The dropout rate was close to 0%, with only one person not completing the entire course.

We then divided the participants into two homogeneous groups (60% women and 40% men with middle age of 50 years) that defined two different experimental conditions:

  • Experimental group: received the supplement
  • Placebo group: received a solution without active substance

To avoid possible influence from our team of researchers, the study was conducted in a double-blinded mode: a methodology in which even the researcher conducting the test is not aware of which group received the supplement and which received the placebo.

Phase one: Initial experimental session

EEG survey BARTT

In phase 1, before the individuals involved began taking the supplement, we performed a series of psychophysiological and behavioral measurements:

  • Thanks to the electroencephalogram (EEG) we, as an exploration, recorded the brain activity of people and mapped the changes in alpha waves related to the effect of the supplement
  • With a structured questionnaire, linked to the symptoms of the participants, we evaluated the overall level of well-being perceived also in relation to specific areas of the body (head, digestive system, legs, …)
  • The BARTT (Brand Association Response Time Test), a variant test of the original IAT, allowed us to evaluate the implicit associations linked to the perception of present and previous disorders in the last 15 days


Phase two: Intermediate verification

At the end of the first month, Phase 2 took place, where we asked participants to respond remotely to a second anamnestic questionnaire, in order to track the progress of their well-being status and their user experience.



Phase Three: Final experimental session

After the two months provided by the project for the administration of the supplement, Phase 3 took place:

  • we repeated the participants’ psychophysiological measurement tasks, as in Phase 1, in order to compare the results;
  • we then administered a final questionnaire enriched with a series of questions about the overall experience.
  • These double recordings, at the beginning and end of treatment, allowed an objective temporal comparison of both intragroup and intergroup results.


EEG survey BARTT

The conclusions of the study on supplements

This study, therefore, has primarily reported a result on the effectiveness of the product. But the positive outcome lies primarily in the new methodology that we have defined to detect the perceived experience in two levels, conscious and unconscious: this allows us to have two different points of view that strengthen the validity of the outcome, considering the results in a synergistic way, precisely because of their qualitative nature on the one hand and objective (because measured), on the other. Furthermore, this study has brought to light how often what we perceive at a conscious level is not aligned with what is measured and recorded at an implicit level.



C.G. Richter, et al. Phase-amplitude coupling at the organism level: the amplitude of spontaneous alpha rhythm fluctuations varies with the phase of the infra-slow gastric basal rhythm NeuroImage, 146 (2017), pp. 951-958

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5 November 2021 Valeria Giannelli

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