DEEP IN THE BOWELS of Houston’s 72,000-seat NRG Stadium, in a curtained-off makeshift room near the court where the Villanova Wildcats and the University of North Carolina Tarheels are playing for the NCAA basketball championship, a small team of engineers and data scientists from a company called Lightwave huddles over laptops watching a stream of real-time data. But the engineers aren’t looking at shooting percentages. The millions of data points show how excited the fans are every 10th of a second—whether they’re clapping, screaming, jumping up and down, or sitting sullenly.

Throughout the stadium, fans wear custom-built wristbands that send real-time biometric data to the engineers, while dozens of hidden sensors record decibel levels and other intel. When something big happens, another Lightwave team in New York City races to design and tweet slick infographics. For almost 30 seconds before Villanova made its game-winning buzzer beater, fans of both teams sat motionless and quiet, utterly transfixed. Lightwave’s hard data showed an audience at peak engagement—information that marketers live for.

Lightwave, which calls itself an “applied neuroscience platform,” is the creation of a 29-year-old named Rana June—a former professional DJ fond of blue-dyed hair and vintage heavy metal T-shirts, whose appearance contrasts starkly with her tendency to talk tech jargon. Since it launched in 2012, the 10-person startup has parsed people’s biometrics for Google, Pepsi, 20th Century Fox, iHeartRadio, and Jaguar, among others. For the NCAA championship, tournament sponsor Degree antiperspirant—owned by the $140 billion conglomerate Unilever—hired Lightwave to study fan excitement.

Lightwave is one of several companies furiously at work creating a new field—let’s call it the emotion economy—focused on sensing and analyzing consumers’ mental states. In January, Apple bought a San Diego startup called Emotient, which uses facial-tracking technology to identify people’s feelings. A few months earlier,

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