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IF YOU MISSED THEM – CLICK HERE TO SEE THE FIRST 24 MIND BLOWING FACTS 

#25 — Trust Your Gut or Be Logical? It Depends On Your Mood

#25 — Trust Your Gut or Be Logical? It Depends On Your Mood

Alli Jiang

In a previous post on how mood affects your reaction to brands you know (see You Are Most Affected By Brands And Logos When You Are Sad And Scared), I talked about the research from Marieke de Vries of Radboud University Nijmegen, in the Netherlands. De Vries also did research on two types of decision making: a trusting -your- gut intuitive method vs. following a logical, deliberative decision-making process of weighing alternatives and thinking through pros and cons. De Vries was interested in whether one method of decision-making was better than another, and also whether your mood affected the outcome of the decision.

When to use deliberative decision-making — Research by Dijksterhuis shows that when you have simple decision to make you make better decisions when you use a logical deliberative method.

When to use intuitive decision-making – Research by Shiv shows that when you have a complicated decision to make, you make better decisions when you use an intuitive or “gut” method.

Where does mood fit in? — De Vries went further with the research to see if mood had an affect, and found that when you are in a happy mood you rely on your gut instincts more, AND the outcome is that you make better decisions. When you are in a sad mood you rely on your logical decision making AND you make better decisions as a result.

Take-aways — If you are in a good mood and/or are making a complicated decision it is best to trust your intuition. If you are in a bad mood and/or are making a simple decision then use a more deliberative process.

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#26 — Culture shapes our brain

#26 — Culture shapes our brain

AP

My entire career I’ve been worried about the fact that most psychology research is conducted on 18-24 year old college students. What if the way 18-24 year old college students react, think, and behave is not the same as everyone else? We are drawing conclusions about PEOPLE in general, but only collecting data from a small subset of people whose brains are still changing. It seemed silly that there were rigorous rules about how to conduct scientific studies in psychology, and yet this basic premise about who was being researched and how applicable the research was to different people was ignored. It’s made me secretly skeptical about research. Which is ironic, since I spend a fair amount of time searching out research, thinking about it, interpreting it and writing about it. I guess some research is better than no research?

Does culture shape “basic” cognitive processes?– And now I’ve come across an entirely new reason to be skeptical about the theories we have about how the brain works — cultural effects. In his book, The Geography of Thought, Richard Nisbitt discusses research that shows that how we think — our cognitive processes — are influenced and shaped by culture. For example, if you show people from “the West” (US, Europe) a picture, they focus on a main or dominant foreground object, while people from Asia pay more attention to context and background. Asian people who grow up in the West show the Western pattern, not the Asian pattern, showing that this is based on culture, not genetics.

Is most of our research in psychology based on what “westerners” think? — This has profound implications for some of the theories we have about cognitive processing. We have research about how people think, how many items can be stored in memory, etc. What if these theories about how people think are really theories about how Western people think and are not universal?

Do cultural differences show up in brain activity? — Sharon Begley recently wrote about this in Newsweek. She reports on recent neuroscience research that confirms the cultural effects. “… when shown complex, busy scenes, Asian-Americans and non-Asian–Americans recruited different brain regions. The Asians showed more activity in areas that process figure-ground relations—holistic context—while the Americans showed more activity in regions that recognize objects. To take one recent example, a region behind the forehead called the medial prefrontal cortex supposedly represents the self: it is active when we (“we” being the Americans in the study) think of our own identity and traits. But with Chinese volunteers, the results were strikingly different. The “me” circuit hummed not only when they thought whether a particular adjective described themselves, but also when they considered whether it described their mother.”

Will it ever end? – This is the curse of research. Just when we think we know something, we find out there are more questions than answers!  One trend that should help is that there is more and more research coming out of Asia. If you peruse the psychology scientific journals you will see that more than half of the research that is being published today comes from Asia. Another big chunk comes from Europe, so the psychology research now is not so US centric. This will help, or will it? Will we now have to worry that the results from Asia don’t apply to the West? Should all psychology research be done using different cultures?

What do you think?

For more reading:

Ambady, N., Freeman, J. B., Rule, N. O. (in press). Culture and the neural substrates of behavior, perception, and cognition. In J. Decety & J. Cacioppo (Eds.), The Handbook of Social Neuroscience. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sharon Begley’s article in Newsweek:  West Brain, East Brain

To find out more, check out The Geography of Thought, by Richard Nisbett.

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#27 — We go below the “fold”

#27 — We go below the “fold”

For the last year or so there has been a heated debate about “the fold”. The fold is the idea that there is a place on a web page that is the bottom edge of what people will see when they look at the page in a browser, and that in order to see anything below that line, the visitor has to scroll down the page. This concept comes from newspapers — there is content on a newspaper page (especially the front page) that is below where the paper folds. In the newspaper world there has been interest for decades and maybe even centuries, at this point, about what to print right above the fold, right below the fold, and right on the fold. This concept bled over to websites in terms of what shows on the screen without scrolling.

What’s the big deal about the fold? — For many years a guiding principle of web and content design has been: If it’s important make sure it’s above the fold, because visitors may not scroll and see more. But lately marketing people, user experience professionals, and others have been questioning this principle. Certainly there is often a lot of material that is below the fold, and people seem to be clicking on it.

Want to see a visual example? — At iampaddy.com there is an interesting visual example. Here is a short video I made from the iampaddy blog that makes the point that maybe people really will scroll:

So do we worry about the fold or not? — I believe it still holds true that the most important content should be above the fold, and that if it is above the fold then it is most likely that people will see it. BUT, if it’s below the fold that doesn’t mean people WON’T see it. Ok, not a definitive answer I know, but the best we can do right now with the data we have (stay tuned… I plan to do some research of my own on this topic).

What do you think? How concerned should we be about whether information and links fall below the fold?

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#28 — Things that are close together seem to belong together

Do you want a quick and easy way to make any web page easier to use and more intuitive? If you want people to realize that two things “belong” together, then put them near each other (close proximity), and put other things a little further away. Sounds simple, right?  Many usability and user experience principles are complicated and may take significant time and energy to accomplish. This is one of the easier ones!

Let’s take a look at some web sites for examples:

In the image below of the Crutchfield page, there is a gray arrow that ends up being very close to the text on the left that says, “connect with a true audiovideo specialist”. Because that arrow is so close to the text (and actually appears to “point” to the text), the text and pictures “belong” together and become connected (as they should).

At the Global Giving website, the amount of space between text and pictures that are supposed to “go together” is about the same as the amount of space between items. This makes it less clear what text goes with what picture.

In the MSNBC website the spacing between headers and photos are all even. It is not clear at a glance what headline goes with what photo.

And in this last example, the picture is very close to the headline that says, “Obama takes responsibility for airline security” that you think the photo goes with that headline. But is doesn’t.

Take-aways –

  • If you want items, whether, pictures, photos, headings, or text, to be seen as belonging together, then put them in close proximity.
  • Before you use lines and boxes to separate or group items together, try experimenting with the amount of space first, then decide whether you still need lines or boxes. Sometimes all you need is to change the spacing and then the line or box may not be necessary, thereby reducing the “visual noise” of the page.
  • Put more space between items that don’t go together and less space between items that do. This sounds like common sense, but you will see that many web page layouts ignore this idea.

Do you have any good or bad examples to share of the proximity principle?

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#29 – Brand Names Talk To Our “Old” Brains

#29 – Brand Names Talk To Our “Old” Brains

sony.com

You are planning on buying a new TV. Will you buy a brand you recognize? Or will you go for the unfamiliar “no name” brand that is less expensive? What if you are buying luggage?

Talking to the “old brain” – In my book, Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? I write about the “old brain”. This is the part of the brain that developed first from an evolution point of view (sometimes called the reptilian brain because it developed with reptiles). The old brain is continually scanning the environment and asking, “Can I eat it?”, “Will it kill me?”, “Can I have sex with it?”. Basically the old brain is interested in food, survival and sex. This pre-occupation with our well-being also makes the old brain sensitive to the idea of loss. The old brain is therefore more motivated by the fear of losing something than it is by the possibility of gain.

Brands activate “safety” – Brand names talk to the old brain because they activate the idea of safety. A brand name means that the item is not an unknown. And if the brand name is positive to you, then the brand name signals safety to the old brain. (If you have had a negative experience with the brand then it will be the opposite. I had a bad experience with Panasonic once many many years ago, and for over two decades I wouldn’t buy anything made by Panasonic. Recently I’ve reluctantly let go of that “ban”, but I still prefer not to buy Panasonic. I can’t even remember what the product was that upset me so much, but in my head Panasonic = maybe not reliable).

Brands are shortcuts – One of the things our old brains are really good at is making quick “blink” decisions. You can’t consciously process all the information that comes into your brain. The estimate is that 40,000,000 inputs come into your brain from your senses every SECOND. You can only process 40 of those consciously, so it is your unconscious that is processing most of that information, and it uses lots of shortcuts to make the processing go faster. Brands are a shortcut. A brand you have a positive and emotional experience with equals a signal to the old brain that this is safe.

Brands are even more powerful online – I’m currently analyzing some data I’ve collected on people making purchases online. (I’ll be sharing that data in another post shortly). The study I conducted has to do with customer reviews. But an interesting piece of information that emerged along the way was how important brand was to the purchasing decision. Some of the participants in the study were asked to shop for luggage online, and others were asked to shop for TVs. All the participants commented during the study about the brand, saying things like, “I don’t know. This one is a good price, but I’ve never heard of this brand”.  In the absence of being able to see and touch the actual product, the brand becomes the “surrogate” for the experience. This means that brands have even more power and sway when you are making an online purchase.

What has been your experience? Do you go for “name” brands more when you are shopping online?

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#30 — Our “strong tie” group size is 150 people

#30 — Our “strong tie” group size is 150 people

Evolutionary anthropologists study social groups in animals. One question they have been trying to answer, is whether there is a limit on how many individuals different species have in their social group. Robin Dunbar studied the relationship between brain (neo-cortex) size and the number of stable relationships that a species had in their social groups. Based on his findings with animals, he extrapolated to what the number would be for humans. Called “Dunbar’s Number”, he postulated that 150 people is the social group size limit for humans. (To be more exact, he calculated the number at 148, but rounded up to 150. Also there is a fairly large error measure, so that the 95% confidence interval is from 100 to 230 – for you statistical experts out there).

A limit to stable, social relationships — The limit specifically refers to the number of people that you can maintain stable social relationships with. These are relationships where you know who the person is, and you know how each person relates to every other person in the group. Dunbar has documented the size of communities throughout different geographic areas and throughout different historical timeframes, and he is convinced that this number holds true.

Across time and cultures — Dunbar assumes that the current size of the human neocortex showed up about 250,000 years ago. So he started his research with hunter-gatherer communities.  His observations include: Neolithic farming villages averaged 150 people, as did Hutterite settlements, professional armies from the Roman days as well as modern army units.

Intense survival pressure — His claim is that 150 is the group size for communities that have a high incentive to stay together. If the group has intense survival pressure, then it stays at the 150 member mark. He also notes that these groups are usually in close physical proximity. If the survival pressure is not intense, or the group is physically dispersed, then he estimates the number would be lower.

Too high or too low? — Some critics of Dunbar’s number say that the number is too high, and others that it is too low. In the world of social media people have 750 facebook friends or 4,000 twitter followers, showing that the number of 150 is way off the mark. A Dunbar fan would respond that these are not the strong stable relationships where everyone knows everyone and people are in physical proximity. Some critics say the number of 150 is too high – that the number of people one is close to both physically and socially is much less than 150.

It’s the weak ties that are important?– In a recent blog post Jacob Morgan says that what’s really important in social media is not the strong ties that Dunbar talks about, but the weak ties – relationships that do not require that everyone knows everyone in the group, and that are not based on physical proximity. He argues that the reason that social media is so interesting is that it allows us to quickly and easily expand these “weak” ties, and that those are the ties that are most relevant in our modern world.

Substituting weak for strong – I think both Dunbar and Morgan are right. It’s critical that we pay attention to that 150 number for our “survival” community in close proximity. If we don’t feel we have that “tribe” near us it causes us to feel alienated, isolated and stressed. Perhaps one of the reasons social media is so popular, and so many of us rely on Facebook and Twitter is that we don’t have a strong tie tribe. Although the weak tie network of social media helps us to feel connected, we’ll eventually feel let down if we try to have it substitute for a strong tie Dunbar tribe.

For more information, I suggest you watch this interview of Robin Dunbar:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/video/2010/mar/12/dunbar-evolution

And read Jacob Morgan’s blog post:

http://www.socialmediatoday.com/SMC/169132

What do you think? Do you have a strong tie tribe network? Are you ultimately trying to substitute with your weak tie network? In our modern world is the weak tie network more important?

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#31 — The Desire For Control And Choice Is Built In

#31 — The Desire For Control And Choice Is Built In

I’ve just started reading Sheena Iyengar’s new book, The Art of Choosing. I’ve been a fan of Dr. Iyengar’s work for a while. She’s the author of the famous “jam study”, that I talked about in a previous blog. (I’ll do a book review of the new book in a future post). Early in the book she talks about some of the research on choosing and control.

The paradox of choosing – In his book The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz talks about how much we want to have lots of choices. The paradox is that if we have lots of choices then we tend not to choose at all. I have a chapter in my book Neuro Web Design: What makes them click devoted to our need to have choices, and the resulting inability to choose.

The innate desire to control – The desire to control our environment is built into us. This makes sense, since by controlling our environment we likely increase our chances of surviving. Iyengar’s discussion in her new book about choices got me thinking about control, and the relationship between having lots of choices and being in control.  The desire to control is related to the desire to have choices.

The need to control starts young — In a study of infants as young as 4 months, the researchers attached babies’ hands to a string. The infants could move their hands to pull a string which would cause music to play. Then the researchers would then detach the string from the music control. They would play music at the same intervals, but the infant had no control over when the music would play. The babies would become sad and angry, even though the music was still playing at the same intervals. They wanted to control when the music played.

We think that choices = control — In an experiment with rats, the rats were given a choice of a direct path to food or a path that had branches and therefore required choices to be made. The rats preferred the path with branches. Monkeys and pigeons learn to press buttons to get food, but they prefer to have more than one button even though it doesn’t get them any more food. Even though it isn’t necessarily true, we equate having choices with having control. If are to feel in control, then we need to feel that our actions are powerful and that we have choices to make. Sometimes having a lot of choices makes it harder to get what we want, but we still want the choices so that we feel in control of the decision.

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#32 — Synchronous activity bonds the group

#32 — Synchronous activity bonds the group

flickr

What do members of a marching band, fans at a college football game, and people at Sunday church have in common? They are all engaging in “synchronous” activity.

What is synchronous activity? — It is when you take action with others, where everyone is moving, singing, chanting, in time together.

What happens when we engage in “timed” behavior together? — Anthropologists have long been interested in rituals among certain cultures. Many rituals in a culture involve singing, chanting, drumming, dancing, or moving together. A recent study (see below for full reference) shows that when people take part in synchronous activities they then are more cooperative with each other when participating later in different activities.

You’ll make more personal sacrifices — In the research the people who were involved in synchronous behavior with other people were then more cooperative in subsequent activities, and ended up making more personal sacrifices in their decisions.

Not just about feeling good — The research also shows that you don’t have to feel good about the group or the group activity in order to be more cooperative. Just the act of doing the synchronous activity seems to strengthen social attachment among the group members.

Here’s my list of synchronous activities I can think of:

  • Singing together
  • Cheers at sporting events
  • Drumming or dancing together
  • Pledge of allegiance
  • Shouting slogans at rallies or marches
  • Tai chi
  • Yoga

Can you think of other examples?

The reference – Scott S. Wiltermuth  and Chip Heath,  Synchrony and Cooperation, Psychological Science, Volume 20 Issue 1, Pages 1 – 5

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#33: Bite-Sized Chunks Of Info Are Best

I am about to head to Portugal for a week, and I was interested in exploring different possible destinations in Portugal. I may not have much time for touring (I’m going to speak at the UXLX conference there), but if I did have time, where should I go? I have to admit to pretty much total ignorance about Portugal, the different regions, landscapes, and parts of the country, so I went to the official tourism web site for the country.

Give me a little bit at a time — The Portugal tourism site did an OK job of  what is called progressive disclosure. This is fancy term that is used in the field of psychology to refer to providing information in increasing chunks of size and complexity.

We can only handle so much — Humans can only process small amounts of information at a time (consciously that is… the estimate is that we handle 40,000,000 pieces of information every second, but only 40 of those make it to our conscious brains). One mistake that web sites make is to give too much information all at once, like this web site from the Canadian government:

There is no chunking here, there is not progressive disclosure. It’s just all the information thrown on the page all at once. The result? You don’t read it, you just leave.

Feeding bits of information – The Portugal site was just OK when it came to progressive disclosure. New Zealand does a much better job. The New Zealand tourism site has multiple levels of disclosure, feeding you the information bit by bit. Here’s the first page on the regions of New Zealand:

Here, I see the overall map and names of the different regions. If I hover over one of the regions in the list then I see a thumbnail of information:

Continuing on with this idea of progressive disclosure, if I click on that region then I link to a page with more pictures and little more detail:

 

There is a big map and there are tabs to go to for more information. If I scroll down I’ll have details on the region:

This is a great example of how to use progressive disclosure.

It’s not the clicks that count (pun intended) – One thing I’d like to point out is that progressive disclosure requires multiple clicks. Sometimes you will hear people say that websites should minimize the number of clicks that people have to make to get to the detailed information. The number of clicks is not the important criteria. People are very willing to make multiple clicks, in fact that won’t even notice they are making the clicks, if they are getting the right amount of information at each click to keep them going down the path.

Think progressive disclosure, don’t count clicks.

Should I let the web site design influence whether I book a ticket? Not this time at least. This time I’m headed for Portugal, where I plan to use the Portugal tourism site as a case study in my workshop!

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#34 — Too Much Stress Results In Poor Performance

#34 — Too Much Stress Results In Poor Performance

A few days ago I found myself in a hotel room outside of Chicago with my 19 year old daughter moaning and sometimes howling in pain. She’d been sick for a week, each day with a new symptom, and this morning her eardrum felt like it was going to burst. We decided that I should cancel my client meeting and take her to an urgent care clinic instead. Of course, we don’t have universal health care here in the States, so first I had to call my insurance provider to find out if there were “in network” doctors we could go to and still be covered by our plan. The insurance company told me to go to a particular web site,  and said that any doctor we picked through that site would be considered in network.

Using a web site under stress — By now 10 minutes have passed and my daughter is still sitting on the bed behind me moaning and wailing. Instead of helping her, I have to go to a web page and fill out forms and look at maps. The first thing that happens is that I encounter a drop down menu that is meaningless to me:

When I look at this web page now (days later, crisis has passed), it doesn’t seem too confusing, but when I was trying to fill it out, trying to get my daughter some help, the web page was daunting and impossible, and not at all intuitive.

Stress changes your perceptions – Research on stress shows that a little bit of stress (called arousal in psychology terms) can help you perform a task, because it heightens awareness. Too much stress, however, degrades performance. Two psychologists, Robert Yerkes and John Dodson first postulated this arousal/performance relationship, and hence it has been called the “Yerkes-Dodson law” for over a century.

Arousal helps up to a point – The law states that performance increases with physiological or mental arousal, but only up to a point. When levels of arousal become too high, performance decreases. Research on the law shows that the amount of stress/arousal that is optimal depends on how difficult the task is. Difficult tasks require less arousal to reach optimal performance, and will start to break down if the arousal level is too high. Simpler tasks require more arousal and don’t fall off as fast.

Tunnel vision — When arousal first goes up then there is an energizing effect, as the person is paying attention. But as the stress increases there are negative effects. Attention gets unfocused, people have trouble remembering, problem solving degrades and “tunnel vision” sets in. Tunnel vision is where you keep doing the same task over and over even though it isn’t working.

Glucocorticoids — More recent research has shown a similar curve when studying the presence of glucocorticoids. These are the hormones that are released when we experience stress, so the Yerkes-Dodson law appears to have direct physical evidence.

Maximum frustration — As I tried to use the web page to find a doctor I kept getting errors, and typical of someone under stress, I kept doing the same task over and over even though it wasn’t working (tunnel vision). At one point I was crying tears of frustration, cursing over the lack of usability of the web site, and upset that I could not just find the name and address of a clinic we could go to.

Patient care, not computer care – I finally turned away from the computer, got my daughter some Tylenol, gave her warm washcloths to hold against her ear, and got us both calmed down. Then I found a clinic at the website  (where we went later that day, only to have them say she was fine. By the way, our insurance didn’t work and we had to pay cash after all — i.e., I didn’t need the web site). My daughter is better, and I didn’t even have to cancel the client meeting.

Test under stress – If you might have people using your site when they are under stress, keep in mind that too much stress will change the way they see and use the web site. And here’s a plea to BeechStreet.com… test your website thoroughly assuming that people are tense, stressed, and with howling children in the background. It’s a totally different experience.

If you’d like to read the research —

Yerkes RM, Dodson JD (1908). “The relation of strength of stimulus to rapidity of habit-formation”. Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology 18: 459–482. http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Yerkes/Law/.

Lupien, SJ, Maheu F, Tu M, Fiocco A, Schramek TE (2007). “The effects of stress and stress hormones on human cognition: Implications for the field of brain and cognition”. Brain and Cognition 65: 209–237.  PMID 17466428.

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#35 — People Make Mistakes

#35 — People Make Mistakes

I used to collect computer error messages. It was kind of a hobby. I’ve got a great collection of them, some of them going back to the old character based computer screens. Most of them are not error messages that were trying to be humorous. Most of them were written by computer programmers that were trying to explain what was going wrong. But many of them end up being quite funny (unless you are the one who got the message in the middle of trying to do something important. Then nothing seems funny). My favorite was from a company in Texas. When there was a “fatal” error, meaning the system was going to crash, a message came up that said, “Shut er down Henry, she’s spewin’ up mud!”

Error messages are probably the part of a software program that gets the least amount of time and energy, and maybe that is appropriate. After all, the best error message is no error message (meaning that the system is designed so that no one makes errors). But when something goes wrong it is important that people know what to do about it.

The reality is that something always goes wrong. People make mistakes. Whether the user makes a mistake in working with a computer, or a company that makes a mistake by releasing software that has too many errors, or a designer designs something that is unusable because he or she doesn’t understand what the user needs to do. Everyone makes mistakes. So here is my list of important things to consider about people making mistakes:

Think ahead about what the likely mistakes are — Figure out as much as you can about what kinds of mistakes people are going to make when they use whatever it is you have created. And then change your design before it goes out so that those mistakes won’t be made.

Create a prototype of whatever it is you have and then get real people to use it so you can see what the errors are likely to be.

Test your prototype with users (usability testing).

Write error messages in plain language. If you are creating a message to show someone or play audio to someone about a mistake they made, tell them the following:

  • That an error has been made
  • What the error is
  • How they can correct it
  • Where to go to get more help in fixing the error

Use active voice and be direct. Instead of saying: “Before the invoice can be paid it is necessary that the invoice payment be earlier than the invoice create date”. Say instead, “Enter an invoice payment date that is BEFORE the invoice create date.”

Need it to be error-proof? It is very difficult to create a “system” that is free of all errors, and that guarantees that people won’t make mistakes. In fact it is impossible.  Ask the people at 3-mile island, or Chernoble, or British Petroleum. The more costly errors are, the more you need to avoid them. The more you need to avoid them the more expensive it is to design the system. If it is critical that people not make mistakes (i.e., you are a nuclear power plant, or an oil rig, or a medical device), then be prepared. You will have to test twice or three times more, and you will have to train two or three times more. It is really expensive to try and design a fail-safe system. And realize you never will fully succeed.

It’s just the way we are. We make mistakes!

If you have some favorite error messages that you have seen, consider sending them to me and I will add them to my collection.

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#36 — People are Inherently Lazy

#36 — People are Inherently Lazy

Ok, I’ll admit it, I am exaggerating a little bit when I say people are inherently lazy. What I really mean is that people will do the least amount of work possible to get a task done.

Is lazy another word for efficient? – Over eons of evolution humans have learned that they will survive longer and better if they conserve their energy. We’ve learned that we want to spend enough energy to have enough resources (food, water, sex, shelter), but beyond that we are wasting our energy if we spend too much time running around getting stuff.

How much is enough? — Of course questions about how much is enough, and do we have enough stuff yet, and how long should the stuff last (and on and on), still vex us, but putting the philosophical questions aside, for most activities most of the time humans work on a principle that is called “satisficing”.

Satisfy plus suffice = Satisfice – According to Wikipedia, Herbert Simon was the person who coined the term satisfice. It was originally used to describe a decision-making strategy whereby the person decides to pick the option that is adequate rather than optimal. The idea is that the cost of making a complete analysis of all the options is not only not worth it, but may be impossible. According to Simon we often don’t have the cognitive faculties to weigh all the options. So it makes more sense to make a decision based on “what will do” or what is “good enough” rather than trying to find the optimal or perfect solution.

Designing with satisficing in mind — So if people “satisfice” rather than “optimize”, what are the implications for those of us who design web sites, software, products, or even design surveys? Satisficing leads to some interesting design guidelines which I’ve listed below.

Design web sites for scanning, not reading – In his excellent book Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug applies the idea of satisficing to the behavior you can observe when someone comes to your web site. You are hoping the visitor will read the whole page, but we know that “What they actually do most of the time (if we’re lucky) is glance at each new page, scan some of the text, and click on the first link that catches their interest or vaguely resembles the thing they’re looking for. There are usually large parts of the page that they don’t even look at.”

Assume that people will look for shortcuts — People will look for ways to do something faster and with less steps. This is especially true if it is a task they are doing over and over.

But if the shortcut is too hard to find — Then people will keep doing it the old way. This seems paradoxical, but it’s all about the amount of perceived work. If it seems like too much work to find a shortcut then people will stay with their old habits (they are even satisficing about satisficing).

Provide defaults — Defaults  reduce the amount of work. When you provide defaults on a web form, for example, the person’s name and address is already filled in, this means there is less that people have to do. The downside of this is that people often don’t notice defaults, and so may end up accepting a default without knowing. Here again, the answer lies in the amount of effort. If it takes a lot of work to change the result of accepting a “wrong” default, then think twice about using them.

Take care with the order and wording of your survey questions – Satisficing is particular difficult for surveys. People will get into a “groove” of answering all the questions the same way because it’s easier and they don’t have to think. If your survey is more than a few questions long you will have to mix it up, and provide different options and formats for the questions or you will find that a given individual has chosen twenty-five “6′s” in a row on your scale.

What are your experiences, either as a user or a designer, with the concept of satisfying?

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#37 — People Assume It’s You, Not The Situation

#37 — People Assume It’s You, Not The Situation

A man is walking down a busy city street on his way to an appointment, and he sees what looks like a college student drop a folder of papers. The papers scatter on the ground and the man glances over but keeps on walking. What do you think? Why didn’t the man stop to help with the papers?

If you answer “Well, he’s a self-absorbed person who doesn’t usually help out strangers on the street” then chances are likely that you have just made a “fundamental attribution” error. People have a tendency to give personality based explanations for other peoples behavior more weight than situational factors. Instead of explaining the person’s behavior in the story above as being due to his “self absorption”, you might ascribe his behavior to the situation, for example, “He’s late for a critical meeting with the bank and doesn’t have time to stop today. In other circumstances he would have stopped.”

Research on the fundamental attribution error shows the following:

  • In cultures that value individualistic behavior (like the USA),  it is common to ascribe behavior of other people to personality. The fundamental attribution error is common in these cultures.
  • On the other hand, in individualistic cultures people tend to explain their OWN behavior to situational factors more than personality factors.
  • In cultures that value collectivist behavior (for example, China), people make the same fundamental attribution error, but not as often as in individualist cultures
  • Most of the research has to do with individuals deciding on personality vs. situational effects, but some research has been done on group decisions and whether they are influenced in the same way. It seems that they are. People attribute the decisions of a other group to the individual member’s attitudes, but attribute the decisions of their own group to the collective group rules.

Why do we do this? – I think the best theory about why we make the fundamental attribution error is that when we believe that personality causes our behavior that makes us feel that we have more control over our life. And we (especially in the West) need to feel that we have that control.

Can’t stop making mistakes — The research shows that it is very hard to stop make the fundamental attribution error. Even when you know you are doing it, and even if you know all about it, you will still make the same error.

Is “fundamental attribution error” the same as “correspondence bias”? – Psychologists like to come up with lots of terms. Both terms have been used, and they are often used interchangeably. However, some psychologists argue that what I’ve been describing is actually the correspondence bias, and that the fundamental attribution error refers to the REASON for the correspondence bias: that we underestimate situational factors. Well, that sounds like hair splitting to me!

But maybe I’m just saying that because I’m a curmudgeonly psychology nut who doesn’t like to agree with people (ok, that was just me trying to make a joke by showing correspondence bias!).

So what’s the take-away? — Now that you know people tend to make this error, what can you do about it? Probably not much in terms of getting people to change their interpretations of others’ behaviors. But try and build in ways to cross-check your own biases. If your work requires you to make a lot of decisions about why people are doing what they are doing, you might want to stop before acting on your decisions and ask yourself, “Am I making a Fundamental Attribution Error?”

If you’d like some fairly heavy reading on the topic, I recommend:

Bawronski, Bertram. Theory-based bias correction in dispositional inference: The fundamental attribution error is dead, long live the correspondence bias. European Review of Social Psychology, 2004, 15, 183–217.

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#38 — Even The Illusion Of Progress Is Motivating

#38 — Even The Illusion Of Progress Is Motivating

You are given a frequent buyer card for your local coffeeshop. Each time you buy a cup of coffee you get a stamp on your card. When the card is filled you get a free cup of coffee. Here are two different scenarios:

Card A: The card has 10 boxes for the stamps, and when you get the card all the boxes are blank.

Card B: The card has 12 boxes for the stamps, and when you get the card the first two boxes are already stamped.

Question: How long will it take you to get the card filled up? Will it take longer or shorter for scenario A vs. scenario B? After all, you have to buy 10 cups of coffee in both scenarios in order to get the free coffee. So does it make a difference which card you use?

The answer apparently is yes. You will fill up the card faster with Card B than with Card A. And the reason is called the “goal-gradient” effect.

The goal-gradient effect was first studied in 1934 by Hull with rats. He found that rats that were running a maze to get food at the end would run faster as they got to the end of the maze.

The goal-gradient effect says that you will accelerate your behavior as you progress closer to your goal. The scenarios I describe above were part of a research study by Ran Kivetz, Oleg Urminsky, and Yuhuang Zheng (full reference is below).  They decided to see if humans would behave like the rats. And the answer is, yes they do.

Here are some important things to keep in mind about the goal-gradient effect:

  • The shorter the distance to the goal the more motivated people will be to reach it.
  • You can get this extra motivation even with the illusion of progress, as in Scenario B above. There really isn’t any progress (you still have to buy 10 coffees), but it seems like there is some progress so it has the same effect
  • People enjoy being part of the reward program. When compared to customers who were not part of the program, the customers with the reward cards smiled more, chatted longer with café employees, said “thank you” more often and left a tip more often (all statistically significant for you research buffs out there).
  • In a related experiment the same researchers showed that people would visit a web site more frequently and rate more songs during each visit as they got closer to a reward goal at the site. So this goal-gradient effect appears to be generalizable across many situations.
  • Motivation and purchases plummet right after the goal is reached. This is called a “post-reward resetting phenomenon”.  If you have a 2nd reward level people will initially not be very motivated to reach that 2nd reward. Right after a reward is reached is when you are most at risk of losing your customer.

And for those of you who want to read the original research:

Ran Kivetz, Oleg Urminsky, and Yuhuang Zheng, The Goal-Gradient Hypothesis Resurrected:Purchase Acceleration, Illusionary Goal Progress, and Customer Retention, Journal of Marketing Research, 39 Vol. XLIII (February 2006), 39–58.

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#39 — Your Mind Wanders 30% of the Time

#39 — Your Mind Wanders 30% of the Time

khrawling via Flickr

You are at work reading a report that one of your colleagues has written and you realize that you’ve just read the same sentence about three times. Instead of thinking about what you were reading, your mind wandered.

Mind wandering is similar to, but not the same thing as daydreaming. Psychologists use daydreaming to refer to any stray thoughts, fantasies, or stories you imagine, for example, winning the lottery, or being a famous celebrity. The term mind wandering is more specific, and refers to when you are doing one task and then fade into thinking about something that is not related to that task.

Mind wandering is a very common phenomena – We underestimate our mind wandering; according to Jonathan Schooler of UC, Santa Barbara, we think our minds are wandering about 10% of the time, when it is actually much more. In normal every day activities our mind is wandering up to 30% of the time, and in some cases, for instance when driving on an uncrowded highway, it might be as high as 70%.

Wandering minds annoy some neuroscientists – Some neuroscientists became interested in studying wandering minds because they were such an annoyance while doing brain scan research. The researchers would have subjects do a certain task, for example, look at a picture, or read a passage, while scanning for brain activity. About 30% of the time they would get extraneous results which did not seem to be related to the task at hand. That’s because the subject’s mind was wandering from the task at hand. Eventually the researchers decided to start studying the wandering rather than just getting annoyed by it.

Why a wandering mind can be a good thing – Mind wandering allows one part of the brain to focus on the task at hand, and another part of the brain to keep a higher goal in mind. So you are driving and paying attention to the road, but you are also thinking about when you should stop for gas. Or you are reading an article online about a thyroid medication called Synthroid that your doctor thinks you should take, but your mind wanders to the idea that you should put that appointment on your calendar. Mind wandering might be the closest thing we have to multi-tasking. It’s not really multi-tasking, (which doesn’t exist…you can see my previous blog post on that), but mind wandering does allow you to keep important goals in mind while doing one thing.

Why a wandering mind can be a bad thing – Much of the time when our mind wanders we aren’t aware of it. More “zoning out” than “mind wandering”, this means that we can miss important information. For example, if you are supposed to be reading that report from your colleague, but you are instead thinking about what to make for dinner, that’s may just mean you are being unproductive. We aren’t usually aware when we are zoning out.

More mind wandering = more creativity – The researchers at UC, Santa Barbara have evidence that people whose mind wanders a lot are more creative and better problem solvers. Their brains have them working on the task at hand, but simultaneously processing other information, and making connections.

Mind wandering and the internet – I’ve been thinking about the fact that the ability to quickly switch from topic to topic is what the web does really well.  Is web surfing related to mind wandering? Here are some of my mind wanderings on this topic:

  • Do we like web surfing because it enables this type of wandering?
  • Rather than designing web sites to try and hold people’s attention should we design to encourage wandering?
  • Should we build in feedback about the wandering so that it is easier to get people back to the original thought?

What do you think?

If you like to read research:

Christoff, et. al., Experience sampling during fMRI reveals default network and executive system contributions to mind wandering. Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences, May 11, 2009.

Mason, et. al., Wandering Minds: The default network and stimulus-independent thought. Science, January 19, 2007.

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#40 — “You’re Easily Influenced, but I’m not”

#40 — “You’re Easily Influenced, but I’m not”

I have been doing a lot of public speaking about my book and the ideas of persuasion. Early in my talks I often discuss John Bargh’s research on how much we are influenced by factors that we are not aware of. Bargh had people unscramble sets of words to make sentences, for example, he would ask people to choose 4 out of 5 words and make a sentence out of them:

he florida today lives now in

would become: “He now lives in Florida”.

Some people would get sets of words that had a theme of old: such as Florida, retired, old, elderly. Other people would get sets of words that had a young theme: such as youth, energy, lively.  A third group would get neutral words that were neither old nor young. After unscrambling the words and making sentences he would then have them walk down the hall to find him. Bargh measured how long it took each person to walk down the hall. People who had been using the “old” words, took much longer to walk down the hall. They had been unconsciously affected by the words. But when asked if they thought the words had influenced them they said no, and when I talk about this study I get the impression that most people in the audience believe that others would walk slowly, but that these words wouldn’t have affected them.

“I’m not that influenced” — In another example, I share in my talks about the power of social validation: how ratings and reviews at websites have a huge influence over what people decide to do (it’s because when we are uncertain we look to others to decide what to do). And everyone in the room nods and talks about how this is true, that other people are very influenced by ratings and reviews, but most people I am speaking to think that they themselves are not very affected. I talk about study after study on persuasion and how much we are affected by pictures, images, words, and that we don’t realize we are being influenced. And the reaction is always similar: “Yes, other people are affected by these things, but I am not.”

The third person effect — In fact, this belief that “others are affected but not me”, is so common that there is research on it, and it has its own name: the “third person effect”.  The research shows that most people think other people are influenced by persuasive messages, but that they themselves are not, and that this perception is false. The “third person effect” seems to be especially true if you think you aren’t interested in the topic. For example, if you are not in the market to buy a new TV, then you will tend to think that advertising about new TVs won’t affect you, but the research says that it will.

Why do we deceive ourselves this way? — So why the self-deception? It’s partly because all this influence is happening unconsciously. We literally aren’t aware that we are being influenced. And it’s also partly because we don’t like to think of ourselves as so easily swayed, or so “gullible”. To be gullible is to not be in control, and our old brain, the part of our brain that is concerned with survival, always wants us to be in control.

What do you think? Why do we believe that others are so easily influenced but not ourselves?

For those of you who like to read research:

Bargh, John A., Mark Chen, Lara Burrows. 1996. Automaticity of social behavior: Direct effects of trait construct and stereotype. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Vol 71(2), 230-244.

Chen, Yi-Fen, Herd behavior in purchasing books online, Computers in Human Behavior, 24, (2008), 1977-1992.

Bryant Paul; Michael B. Salwen; Michel Dupagne, The Third-Person Effect: A Meta-analysis of the perceptual hypothesis. Mass Communication and Society, 1532-7825, Volume 3, Issue 1, 2000, Pages 57 – 85

Perloff  Third-Person Effect Research 1983–1992: A Review and Synthesis.
Int J Public Opin Res.1993; 5: 167-184

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#41 — Your Most Vivid Memories Are Wrong

#41 — Your Most Vivid Memories Are Wrong

What Makes Them Click

If I ask you to remember where you were and what you were doing when you first heard about the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City, chances are very good that you will be able to tell me in great detail your memory of that day, and how you heard about the attacks. Especially if you live in the US and you were 10 years old or older on that date. But the research shows clearly that you would be wrong about the majority of your memory.

Flashbulb memory is very vivid — Remembering traumatic or dramatic events in great detail is called “flashbulb memory” by psychologists, and has been studied for several decades. Emotions are processed in the amygdala part of the mid-brain, and the amygdala is very close to the hippocampus. The hippocampus is involved in the long term coding of information into memories. So it is no surprise to psychologists that emotionally laden memories might be very strong and remembered vividly.

But the memories are full of errors — It turns out, though, that those memories are full of errors. Ulric Neisser researches memories like these. In 1986 the space shuttle Challenger exploded upon take-off. Any of you reading this who are old enough to remember the Challenger explosion probably remember it vividly, i.e., as a flashbulb memory. Neisser took the opportunity to do some research. The day after the explosion he had his students (he is a professor) write down their memories of what had happened, where they were, what they were wearing, what the TV coverage was like, etc. Three years later he asked them to write down their memory of the event again. Most (over 90%) of the 3-yr later reports differed. Half of them were inaccurate in 2/3 of the details. One person, when shown her first description written three years earlier, on the day after the event, said, “I know that’s my handwriting, but I couldn’t possibly have written that”. Similar research has been conducted on the 9/11 memories, with similar results.

The Forgetting Curve of 1885 – In 1885 Hermann Ebbinghaus created a formula showing the degradation of memories:

Re(−t/S)

where R is memory retention, S is the relative strength of memory, and t is time. The graph at the top of this post is an example of this formula. It’s called the “Forgetting Curve”. Because flashbulb memories are so vivid, it was thought that perhaps they were not as subject to forgetting as other memories. But it turns out they are. Which is kind of disturbing, when you think about it. Because they are so vivid, we are SURE they are accurate and real. But they aren’t nearly as accurate as we think.

Take-Aways – I can think of many ways that we (falsely) rely on people’s memories of events, whether dramatic or not: for example, conducting user or customer research. We often ask customers to remember a particular encounter with a website, software, or an in-store experience. We may have to realize that the memories, although vivid, might not be accurate.

What do you think?  Can you think of situations where you perhaps rely on people’s memories more than you should?

For more reading and information:

Kathryn Schulz, Being Wrong, Harper Collins, 2010

Daniel Schacter, The Seven Sins of Memory, Houghton Mifflin, 2001

Neisser and Harsh, “Phantom Flashbulbs: False Recollections of Hearing the News about Challenger”, in Winograd and Neisser (eds) Affect and Accuracy in Recall, Cambridge University Press, 1992, p. 9-31.

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#42 — We’ll spend more money if you don’t mention money

#42 — We’ll spend more money if you don’t mention money

What Makes Them Click

You are out for a Sunday bike ride on your favorite biking path, and you come across a pair of kids selling lemonade.  Do you stop and buy some lemonade? Do you like the lemonade? Does your buying or liking the lemonade have anything to do with the wording on the sign next to the lemonade stand? Apparently so.

Cassie Mogilner and Jennifer Aaker from the Stanford Graduate School of Business conducted a series of experiments to see whether references to time or references to money would affect whether people stop to buy, how much people are willing to pay, and how satisfied people are with the products they buy. They conducted 5 experiments. The first one was the lemonade stand described above:

Sometimes there was a sign that said, “Spend a little time, and enjoy C & D’s lemonade.” This was the “time” condition. Sometimes the sign said, “Spend a little money, and enjoy C & D’s lemonade.” (money condition)  and then there was a control condition where the sign said, “Enjoy C & D’s lemonade”.

391 people passed by either walking or on bikes. Those who stopped to purchase lemonade ranged in age from 14-50 years old, and there was a mix of gender, occupations etc. Customers could pay anywhere between $1 and $3 for a cup of lemonade — they could decide the price. The authors comment that the high price was justified by the fact that the customers got to keep the high quality plastic cup. (Ok, excuse me if I date myself here and comment that when I had a lemonade stand as a kid I think we charged like 10 cents).  After customers drank their lemonade they also completed a survey.

More people stopped to buy lemonade when the sign mentioned time (14%), in fact twice as many people stopped when time was mentioned than when money was mentioned (7%). In addition, customers in the time condition paid more money for the lemonade (on average $2.50) compared to the money condition (on average $1.38).  Interestingly, the control condition was in between on both # of people stopping to purchase and the average price. In other words, mentioning time brought the most customers and the most money, mentioning money brought the least customers and the least money, and mentioning neither was in between. The same effect was true when customers filled out the satisfaction survey.

Does time = personal connection? – The researchers came up with the hypothesis that when you invoke time in the message you make more of a personal connection than when you invoke money. To test this idea out, they conducted 4 more experiments in the lab rather than in the “field” to see how the time vs. money messaging affected people’s ideas about purchasing iPods, laptops, jeans, and cars.

Personal connection = time = experiences… well, mostly, but not always – At the end of all the experiments, the researchers concluded that people are more willing to buy, spend more money, and like their purchases better if there is a feeling of personal connection. Most of the time that feeling of personal connection is triggered by references to time instead of money. The idea is that mentioning time highlights the experience you are having with the product, and it is this thinking about experiences that makes the personal connection.

But not for prestige products or “materialists” For certain products, such as designer jeans or prestige cars, and/or for certain consumers – those who value possessions more than experiences – personal connection is highlighted by mentioning money more than by mentioning time. These people are in the minority, but they are out there.

So where does this leave us? Here are the take-aways as I see them:

a)    The best thing to do is, of course, know your market/audience. If they are people who are influenced by prestige and possessions, then by all means mention money.

b)    Be aware, though that most people, most of the time, will be more influenced by time/experiences as the personal connection rather than money or possessions.

c)    If you don’t have time or budget to know your audience well, and if you are selling non-prestige items or services, then err on the side of time/experiences, and delay the mention of money as long as possible.

What do you think the take-aways are?

And for those of you who like to read the research:

Mogilner, Cassie and Jennifer Aaker (2009) “The Time versus Money Effect: Shifting Product Attitudes and Decisions through Personal Connection,” Journal of Consumer Research, 36 (August), 277-291.

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#43 — People Expect Online Interactions to Follow Social Rules

#43 — People Expect Online Interactions to Follow Social Rules

mmbooklover

When people interact with each other they follow rules and guidelines for social interaction. Here’s an example: Let’s say I go to a café and I see you sitting by the window. We know each other, and so I come up to you and say, “Hi Richard, how are you doing today?” I expect you to interact with me, and I expect that interaction to follow a certain protocol. I expect you to look at me, in fact to look me in the eye. If our previous interactions have been positive, then I expect you to smile a little bit. Next, you are supposed to respond to me by saying something like, “I’m fine. I’m sitting outside here to enjoy the beautiful weather.” Where the conversation goes next depends on how well we know each other. If we are just casual acquaintances we might wind down the conversation, “Well, enjoy it while you can, bye!” If we are close friends, then I might pull up a chair and engage in a longer conversation.

We have expectations of how the interaction will go – and if either of us violates the expectations, then we will get uncomfortable. For example, what if I start the conversation as above, with “Hi Richard, how are you doing today?” but you don’t respond. What if you ignore me? Or what if you won’t look at me? What if you say back, “My sister never liked the color blue”, and stare into space. Or perhaps you give me more personal information than our relationship warrants. Any of these scenarios would make me uncomfortable. I would probably try to end the conversation as soon as possible, and likely avoid interacting with you next time the opportunity arises.

Online interactions follow the same social rules – When people go to a website or use an online application, they have assumptions about how the website will respond to them and what the interaction will be like. And many of these expectations mirror the expectations that they have for person-to-person interactions. If the website is not responsive or takes too long to load, it is like talking to a person who is not looking at you, or is ignoring you. If the website asks for personal information too soon in the flow of the interaction, that is like the other person getting too personal. If the website does not save your information from session to session, that is like the other person not recognizing you or remembering that you have already established a relationship.

There are cultural expectations too – Different cultures have different expectations of social rules and interactions. In the US when I meet someone knew I put out my hand for a handshake, but in other cultures a handshake would not be the normal social rule for meeting a new person. In the US it’s common to ask someone new that you meet “What do you do”, but in some cultures that would seem too personal. Similarly, if a website is not modified to meet the expectations of a particular culture (called localization of the website), then it will miss the mark because it will violate social rules of the target culture.

A new definition of social media? – Some people are saying that “social media” has reached its peak and is dying. But maybe the definition just needs to get broader. Is social media just about how to connect people together online? How to use online networking as a way to promote brands or products or services? Aren’t all online interactions really social interactions?If people expect their online interactions to follow the rules of social interactions, then isn’t something as simple as showing up at the home page of a website actually a social interaction. Is filling out a form at a government website to renew your automobile registration a social interaction?

What do you think? Should web designers think about the interactions that they are building as social interactions? Should they consider how to mirror person-to-person interaction? Would they design different interactions if they were thinking this way? Is this a new definition of  “social media”?

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#44 — When Uncertain, People Look To Others to Decide What To Do

#44 — When Uncertain, People Look To Others to Decide What To Do

You are browsing a website to decide what to boots to buy. You see a pair that looks good and then you scroll down to see the ratings. Many people have rated the boots highly, but a few of say the boots are cheaply made and uncomfortable. What will you do? Will you buy the boots or not?

Uncertainty tips the scale

In my book, Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? I have a chapter on this topic. The tendency to look to others to decide what to do is called social validation. Research on social validation shows that it is when we are uncertain about what to do that we will most look to others to decide.

Is the smoke dangerous? — There have been many studies about social validation. Latane and Darley conducted a series of studies where they would set up ambiguous situations to see if people were affected by what others around them were or were not doing. For example, they would bring someone into a room, supposedly to fill out a survey on creativity. In the room would be one or more other people who were pretending they were also participants in the creativity study, but who were really part of the experiment. Sometimes there would be one other person in the room, sometimes two others or more. While everyone is filling out their creativity survey, smoke starts coming into the room from an air vent. The researchers were interested in seeing if the participant would leave the room, or go tell someone about the smoke, or just ignore it. It wasn’t clear what the smoke was, or if it was dangerous. So it was an ambiguous situation.

Only if others think it is — Whether or not the participant left the room and/or went to get help, or whether they stayed there and kept filling out the form, depended on the behavior of the other people in the room, as well as how many other people there were. The more people in the room, and the more the others ignored the smoke, the more the participant was likely to also ignore the smoke. If the participant was alone they would go leave the room and go to notify someone. But if there were others in the room not reacting, then the participant would also not react.

Testimonials and ratings are powerful — Online, social validation is most in evidence with ratings and reviews. When we are unsure about what to do we look to testimonials, ratings, and reviews to tell us how to behave. The most powerful ratings and reviews:

  • Include information about the person writing the review – a mini “persona”. This is effective because the person reading the review will give more credence to a review written by someone who is like them.
  • Tell a story about the product or service. Because stories “talk” to our mid, or emotional brain, they are very powerful.
  • Ratings from people like us are more powerful than ratings from “experts”. I wrote another blog post on research by Chen on ratings and reviews at a book web site that studied these different types of ratings. Ratings from other readers were more powerful in influencing behavior than ratings from experts or from the website itself.

Although people don’t like to admit that they are easily influenced by others, the truth is that they are. What do you think? Do you try to resist the impact others have on your decisions?

For those of you who like to read the research:

Chen, Yi-Fen, Herd behavior in purchasing books online, Computers in Human Behavior, 24, (2008), 1977-1992.

Latane, Bibb, and John M. Darley. 1970. The Unresponsive Bystander. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1970.

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#45 — You Choose (And Vote For) The First One On The List

#45 — You Choose (And Vote For) The First One On The List

Lost Star

It’s almost election time here in the USA, and there are many hotly contested elections at local, state, and national levels. Who will you vote for? According to the research, you are likely to vote for the first person that appears on the ballot!

The order effect – In my book, Neuro Web Design: What makes them click?, I write about the “order effect”. You go to a website to buy a tent for camping. You answer some questions about the type of camping you plan to do. The site then recommends four tents that best match your use, and compares the tents based on 10 attributes (how waterproof they are, how much they weigh, how much air ventilation they have, and so on). Two of the tents are “best buys” for the attributes that are important to you. Which tent will you buy?

Order effect at websites –– Felfernig (2007) set up a research study to find out. Even though there were 10 attributes that the tents were compared on, participants focused only on two or three attributes. The researchers varied the order in which the tents appeared on the page: first, second, third, or fourth. It turns out that the most important attribute was not whether the tent was waterproof or if it had plenty of air ventilation. The most important attribute was the order in which the tents appeared on the page! Participants disregarded attributes and simply picked whichever tent was the first one to show. People picked the first tent 2.5 times more than any other. They chose the first tent 200 times; they chose the other three tents (combined) only 60 times. This is an example of the order effect.

We rationalize the choice – The participants explained their choice, however, based on the logical decisions they thought they were making. For example, they explained the choice of tent #1 by saying, “This tent is the most waterproof.” They thought they were weighing all the attributes of all the tents, but in reality they were considering only a few attributes, and even those attributes didn’t matter. All that mattered was an unconscious reaction to which tent showed up first.

The first name on the ballot – According to research by Marc Meredith and Yuvall Salant, the same order effect influences who you vote for. In a wide range of elections, and with order randomized for different elections, Meredith and Salant found that in one out of every 10 elections, the first name on the ballot will win just because it’s first. They also calculated that being in the middle of the list lowers your chance of winning by 2.5 percentage points.

So which position candidate are you going to vote for!

Thanks to the blog Barking Up The Wrong Tree for drawing my attention to this research.

For more information on the Meredith and Sulant research: Kellogg Insight Focus On Research

For the tent research:

Felfernig, A., g. Friedrich, B. Gula, M. Hitz, T. Kruggel, G. Leitner, R. Melcher, D. Riepan, S. Strauss, E. Teppan, and O. Vitouch. 2007. Persuasive recommendation: Serial position effects in knowledge-based recommender systems. In Persuasive Technology, Second International Conference on Persuasive Technology. New York: Springer.

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#46: The more uncertain you are, the more you dig in and defend your ideas

#46: The more uncertain you are, the more you dig in and defend your ideas

I’m one of these staunch Apple converts. For as long as there were PCs, I used to be a Windows/PC person. (Realize that I go all the way back to when PCs first came out. I used to sell a marvelous “portable” PC that ran on CPM operating system and had TWO (count ‘em) TWO 360 KB (yes, I said KB) “floppy” disk drives (in other words NO hard drive.)) I was a PC person, NOT an Apple person. Apples were for teachers and then later, for artsy people. That was not me.

Fast forward to today and I will be talking on my iPhone, charging my Nano for my afternoon exercise, and transferring a movie to my iPad from my MacBook Pro. What the heck happened here?! — (that’s another story altogether).

Don’t show me the Android phone – So you might be able to guess what happened when I went to dinner with a colleague who was showing me his Android phone. He loves his new Android phone and wanted to show me all the great ways it was as good as, or better than, my iPhone. I was totally uninterested in hearing about it. I didn’t even want to look at it. Basically, I didn’t want to allow into my brain any information that would conflict with my opinion that anything besides an iPhone was even a possibility. I was showing classical symptoms of cognitive dissonance denial.

Alter your beliefs or deny the information? — In 1956 Leon Festinger wrote a book called When Prophecy Fails. In it he describes the idea of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable feeling we get when we have 2 ideas that conflict with each other. We don’t like the feeling, and we will therefore try to get rid of the dissonance. There are two main ways we can do that: change our belief, or deny one of the ideas.

When forced you’ll change your belief — In the original research on cognitive dissonance, people were forced to defend an opinion that they did not believe in. The result was actually that people tended to change their belief to fit the new idea.

Watching cognitive dissonance via an fMRI scan – In new research by Van Veen, researchers had people “argue” that the fMRI scan experience was pleasant (it’s not). When “forced” to make statements that the experience was pleasant, certain parts of the brain would light up (the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and the anterior insular cortex.) The more these regions were actived, the more the participant would claim that they really did think the fMRI was pleasant.

When not forced you’ll dig in — But there’s another reaction that sometimes occurs. If you are not forced to state that you believe something you don’t, if instead you are presented with information that opposes your beliefs, but not forced to espouse a new belief, then the tendency is to deny the new information instead of changing your belief to fit.

When made to feel uncertain, you will argue harder – Gal and Rucker recently conducted research where they used framing techniques to make people feel uncertain. (For example, they told one group to remember a time when they were full of certainty, and the other group to remember a time when they were full of doubt). They they asked the participants whether they were meat-eaters, vegetarians, vegans, etc, how important this was to them, and how confident they were in their opinions.  People who were asked to remember times when they were uncertain, were less confident of their eating choices. However, when asked to write up their beliefs to persuade someone else to eat the way they did, they would write more and stronger arguments than the group that were certain of their choice.  They performed the research with different topics (for example the MAC/PC distinction) and found similar results. When people were less certain, then they would dig in and argue even harder.

I’m still trying to digest this latest research. What does this mean? If we want someone to be loyal and to be an advocate then we should actually give them a reason to be uncertain about the product? What do you think?

And for those of you who like to read the research:

Festinger, L., Riecken, H.W., & Schachter, S. (1956). When prophecy fails. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Gal, David, and Rucker, Derek, When in doubt, shout. Psychological Science, October 13, 2010

Van Veen, V., Krug, M.K., Schooler, J.W., & Carter, C.S. (2009). Neural activity predicts attitude change in cognitive dissonance. Nature Neuroscience, 12(11), 1469–1474.

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#47 — People Value A Product More Highly If It Is Physically In Front Of Them

#47 — People Value A Product More Highly If It Is Physically In Front Of Them

You go online to re-order a box of your favorite pens. Will you value the product more if the product page has a picture of the pens versus just a text description? Would you think the pens are worth more if you were in the office store and the pen was right in front of you? Does it matter if you are buying pens or food or any other product? In other words, does the way the item is displayed at the time of decision affect the dollar value that people put on them? Bushong and a team of researchers decided to test this out. The answers they came up with might surprise you. I know they surprised me.

How much would you pay for the chips? — In the first set of experiments they used snack food (potato chips, candy bars). Participants were given money they could spend. They had lots of choices, so they got to pick what they wanted to buy (by the way, they screened out people on a diet, people with eating disorders etc). The participants could read the name/brief description of the item (Lays Potato Chips in a 1.5 oz bag) or see a picture of the item, or have the real item right in front of them. Here’s a chart of the results:

Chart of experiment 1 results

The real deal counts – Having a picture didn’t increase the amount of money people were willing to “bid” for the product, but having the product right in front of them definitely did by up to 60%. Interestingly, the form of presentation didn’t change how much people said they liked the item, just the dollar value. In fact, for some items that they had said before the experiment they didn’t like, they still valued those more highly if they were in front of them.

What about toys and trinkets instead of food? — The researchers were surprised. They thought the images would be more powerful than text. They decided to try the experiment again, each time varying some conditions. For example, they tried the experiment with toys and trinkets instead of food. Same result.

What about behind plexiglass? – They wondered if with the food there was some unconscious olfactory (smell) cues that were triggering the brain, so they did another experiment putting the food in view, but behind plexiglass. If the food was in view, but behind plexiglass it was deemed to be worth a little more money, but not the same as if it were available within reach. Ah! they thought it is olfactory!, but then they found the same result with the non food items.

Chart 2 from experiment

Ok, so we’ll give samples – Deciding to try one more thing, they went back to food items, but this time let people see and taste a sample. The actual item wasn’t there, but the sample was. Surely, they thought, the sample will be the same as having the actual item in front of them. Wrong again!

Chart 3 from experiment

The researchers note that in this taste condition the participants didn’t even look at the samples in the paper cup, since they knew they were the same as the food in the package.

A Pavlovian response? — The researchers hypothesize that there is a physical Pavlovian response going on: When the product is actually available, that acts as a conditioned stimulus and elicits a response.  The images and even text could become a conditioned stimulus and produce the same response, but they have not been set up in the brain to trigger the same response as the actual item.

As you start to think of the implications, here are some things to consider:

a) People were not going online and deciding whether or not to buy an item they were unfamiliar with. They were not at an apparel website deciding whether this was the right shirt or not. In those cases showing an image might have a huge impact. In these experiments the participants were all familiar already with the products.

b) Having the product physically available and not behind a barrier or plexiglass cover seems to be very important.

c) Sounds like those brick and mortar stores have an edge, at least on price.

Let me know your thoughts on the implications of the experiments.

And for those of you who like to read the research:

B. Bushong, L.M. King, C.F. Camerer, A. Rangel, Pavlovian processes in consumer choice: The physical presence of a good increases willingness-to-pay. American Economic Review, 2010, 100:1-18.

 

 

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