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#1 — You Have “Inattention Blindness”

First let’s start with a little test for you to take. Watch the video below:


This is an example of what is called “inattention blindness” or “change blindness.” The idea is that people often miss large changes in their visual field. This has been shown in many experiments.

So what does this mean if you are designing a website or something on a computer screen? It means that you can’t assume that just because something is on the screen that people see it. This is especially true when you refresh a screen and make one change on it. People may not realize they are even looking at a different screen. Remember, just because something happens in the visual field doesn’t mean that people are consciously aware of it.

Here is a change blindness experiment that was recently conducted:

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#2 — You READ FASTER With a longer Line Length But PREFER Shorter

#2 — You READ FASTER With a longer Line Length But PREFER Shorter

What Makes Them Click

Have you ever had to decide how wide a column of text you should use on a screen? Should you use a wide column with 100 characters per line? or a narrow column with 50 characters per line?

It turns out that the answer depends on whether you want people to read faster or whether you want them to like the page!

Research (see reference below) demonstrates that 100 characters per line is the optimal length for on-screen reading speed; but it’s not what people prefer. People read faster with longer line lengths (100 characters per line), but they prefer a short or medium line length (45 to 72 characters per line). In the example above from the New York Times Reader, the line length averages 39 characters per line.

The research also shows that people can read one single wide column faster than multiple columns, but they prefer multiple columns (like the New York Times Reader above).

So if you ask people which they prefer they will say multiple columns with short line lengths. Interestingly, if you ask them which they read faster, they will insist it is also the multiple columns with short line lengths, even though the data shows otherwise.

It’s a quandary: Do you give people what they prefer or go against their own preference and intuition, knowing that they will read faster if you use a longer line length and one column?

What would you do?

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#3 — You Can Only Remember 3 to 4 Things At A Time (The Magic Number 3 or 4)

#3 — You Can Only Remember 3 to 4 Things At A Time (The Magic Number 3 or 4)

What Makes Them Click

7 +/- 2???

3 or 4???

Those of you who have been in the field of usability or user experience for a few years have probably heard the phrase “The Magic Number 7 Plus Or Minus 2″. This refers, actually, to what I would call an urban legend. Here’s the legend part:

Legend: “A guy named Miller did research and wrote a paper showing that people can remember from 5 to 9 (7 plus or minus 2) things, and that people can process 7 plus or minus 2 pieces of information at a time. So you should only put 5 to 9 items on a menu, or have 5 to 9 tabs on a screen”.

Have you heard this? If you’ve been reading about usability for a while I’m sure you have. Well, it’s not quite accurate. Another guy named Baddeley questioned all this urban legend. Baddeley dug up Miller’s paper and discovered that it wasn’t a research paper, it was a talk that Miller gave at a professional meeting. And it was basically Miller thinking out loud about whether there is some kind of inherent limit to the amount of information that people can process at a time.

Baddeley conducted a long series of studies on human memory and information processing. And what he concluded is that the number is 3 to 4, not 5 to 9.

You can remember about 3-4 things (for about 20 seconds) and then they will disappear from memory unless you repeat them over and over. For example, let’s say you are driving in your car and talking on your cell phone (ok, you shouldn’t be doing that) and someone gives you a number to call. But you don’t have a pen handy, and anyway you are driving. So you try to memorize the number long enough to hang up from one call and dial the new number. What do you do? You repeat the number over and over (putting it back into short term memory each time, which buys you another 20 seconds). The interesting thing about phone numbers is that they are more than 3 or 4 numbers long. So they are hard to remember for more than 20 seconds.

712-569-4532

We also tend to chunk information into groups that have 3-4 items in them. So a phone number in the US is: 712-569-4532. Three chunks, with 3-4 items in each chunk. If you know the area code “by heart” (i.e., it’s stored in long term memory), then you don’t have to remember that, so one whole chunk went away. Phone numbers used to be easier to remember because you mainly called people in your area code, so you had the area code memorized (plus you didn’t even have to “dial” the area code at all). And then if you were calling people in your town each town had the same “exchange” — that is the 569 part of the phone number above. So all you had to remember was the last four numbers. No problem! I know I’m “dating” myself here by telling you how it used to be back in the old days. (I live in a small town in Wisconsin, and people here still give their number out as the last four digits only).

But that’s not all! Researchers working in the field of decision-making tell us that people can’t effectively choose between more than 3 to 4 items at a time.

So, what does all this mean? Can you really only have 4 items on a navigation bar? or 4 tabs on a screen, or 4 items on a product detail page at an e-commerce web site? No, not really. You can have more, as long as you group and chunk.

Here’s an example: At the Upton Tea site they have lots of tabs, but the tabs are not chunked into groups of 3 or 4.

So people will tend to do a partial scan and not even look at or read all the tabs. (I love their teas, by the way.. just wish they would do some work on the layout and emotional aspects of their site, but that’s probably another blog!).

I’ve covered more than 4 items in this blog post, so I’ll stop now! For those of you who like to read research here are some references:

  • Baddeley, A. D. (1986). Working memory. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Baddeley, A. D. (1994). The magical number seven: Still magic after all these years? Psychological Review, 101, 353-356.
  • Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review, 63, 81-9

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#4 — You Imagine Objects From Above and Tilted (The “Canonical Perspective”)

Why you should believe the research in this blog post even though it’s from 1981 — Whenever I talk about “old” research some people start right away to dismiss it. It’s easy to think that research done in the 1990s or 1980s, or heavens! the 1970s! couldn’t hold any interest for us now. I heartily disagree. If the research is sound and it’s about people, then the chances are high that it still has relevance. Certainly if you are talking about research from the 1980s showing that it is hard to read text on a computer screen, then more recent data is important –  the quality of computer monitors has changed so dramatically from the 1980s till now (believe me on this one, as I was around to see the screens of the 1980s. I am aware that many of you reading this blog have only seen a screen from the 80s in the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, or maybe you saw it in an old black and white movie (joke), or, as my daughter likes to say to me, “that must have been when you were younger and the dinosaurs roamed”).

Have an Open Mind — So the purpose of the above long preamble is to ask you to have an open mind about the following research that was done and written up in a book from 1981.

Draw a Coffee Cup — If you ask someone to draw a picture of a coffee cup, chances are they will draw something that looks like this:

Everyone Drew A Similar Picture — In fact, a researcher named Palmer went all around the world and asked people to draw a coffee cup and the pictures above were what people drew. Notice the perspective of the cups. A few of them are “straight on”, but most are drawn from a perspective as if you are slightly above the cup looking down, and offset a little to the right or left. This has been dubbed the “canonical perspective”.

Why Not This? — No one he studied drew this:

which is what you would see if you were looking at a coffee cup from way above and looking down. Of course not, you say, but…. why not? And if you are going to say that the first perspective is the one that we actually see most of the time, when we look at a coffee cup… that it is the angle we are used to seeing the cup on our kitchen tables, I will tell you that this research has been done on many objects. For example, people were shown pictures of horses from various angles and perspectives and they most quickly recognized it as a horse when it was from this same canonical perspective. Yet I am fairly sure that most of us have not looked at horses from above most of the time. And the research was done with people recognizing a very small dog or cat. The canonical perspective still won out, even though when we see cats or very small dogs we are mainly looking at them from high above, not just slightly above. In fact the research shows that when we imagine an object we imagine it from this canonical perspective.So, Why Care? — It seems to be a universal trait that we think about, remember, imagine and recognize objects from this canonical perspective. Why care? Well, if you want to use icons at your web site or in your web or software application that people will recognize, then you might want to use this perspective. This is probably not so critical if you are using a well known logo, for example, the logo for itunes or Firefox, but becomes important if the icon is not as familiar, such as recognizing below that one of the logos is of a truck, or a photo printer.

What Do You Think? — Should we continue to use the canonical perspective?

And for those of you who like to read research:Palmer, S. E., Rosch, E., and Chase, P. (1981). “Canonical Perspective and the Perception of Objects.” In Long, J., and Baddeley, A.  (Eds.), Attention and performance IX, Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#5 — You Make Most of Your Decisions Unconsciously

#5 — You Make Most of Your Decisions Unconsciously

You are thinking of buying a TV. You do some research on what TV to buy and then you go online to purchase one. What factors are involved in this decision making process?

It’s not what you think — I cover this topic in my book “Neuro Web Design: What makes them click?” You like to think that when you make a decision you have carefully and logically weighed all the relevant factors. In the case of the TV, you have considered the size of TV that works best in your room, the brand that you have read is the most reliable, the competitive price, whether you should get blu-ray, etc etc. But the research on decision-making, especially the recent research, shows that although you want to think that your decision-making is a conscious, deliberate process, it’s not. Most decisions are made through unconscious mental processing.

Unconscious decision-making includes factors such as:

What are most other people buying (social validation): “I see that a particular TV got high ratings and reviews at the website”

What will make me stay consistent in my persona (commitment): “I’m the kind of person that always has the latest thing, the newest technology.”

Do I have any obligations or social debts that I can pay off with this purchase (reciprocity): “My brother has had me over to his house all year to watch the games, I think it’s time we had them over to our place to watch”

and on and on.

Don’t Confuse Unconscious with Irrational or Bad. I take exception with Dan Ariely and his book, “Predictably Irrational.” Most of our mental processing is unconscious, and most of our decision-making is unconscious, but that doesn’t mean it’s faulty, irrational or bad. We are faced with an overwhelming amount of data (11,000,000 pieces of data come into the brain every second!) and our conscious minds can’t process all of that. Our unconscious has evolved to process most of the data and to make decisions for us according to guidelines and rules of thumb that are in our best interest most of the time. This is the genesis of “trusting your gut”, and most of the time it works!

So What To Do? — The next step is to think about what this means for people who design things like websites, where you are providing information and/or engaging customers to make a decision. This is, of course, the topic of my book, but let’s hear from you. If we know that people are making decisions unconsciously, rather than consciously, what are some strategies we should employ at the website to encourage them to engage?

And for those of you who like to read, great books on this topic are:

  • “How We Decide” by Jonah Lehrer — The BEST book on the topic of decision-making in general.
  • “Strangers to Ourselves: The adaptive unconscious” by Timothy Wilson — A little bit more academic, but still a great book.
  • “The Paradox of Choice” by Barry Schwartz
  • “Neuro Web Design: What makes them click?”

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#6 — You Reconstruct Your Memories

#6 — You Reconstruct Your Memories

Try this task — Think back to a particular event that happened at least 5 years ago. Maybe it was a wedding, or a family gathering, or a dinner you went to with friends, or a vacation. Pick one for our purposes here, and remember the event. Remember the people, and where you were and maybe you can remember the weather, or what you were wearing.

Memories as movies? — We tend to experience our memories of events like this as little movie clips that play back in our minds. And because we experience them this way we have a tendency to think that memories are stored in entirety and never change. But that’s not what happens.

Memories are reconstructed — Our memories are actually reconstructed every time we think of them. They aren’t movie clips that are stored in the brain in a certain location like files on a hard drive. They are nerve pathways that are firing anew each time we remember the event. This makes for some interesting effects. For example, the memory can change.

Subsequent events can affect the memory – Other events that occur after the original event can change the memory of the original event. At the original event, you and your cousin were close friends. But later on you have an argument and a falling-out that lasts for years. Your memory of the first event might include your cousin being aloof and cold, even if that is not true. The later experience has changed your memory.

Mixing events — It is easy to start mixing up memories. So that things that happened at two separate events become fused into one. Your cousin was pleasant at one event, and not pleasant at the other, but over time your memories about which is which can become confused.

Filling in of gaps – You will also start to fill in your memory gaps with “made up” sequences of events, but these will seem as real to you as the original event. You can’t remember who else was at the family dinner, but Aunt Jolene is usually present at these events, and so over time your memory of the event will include Aunt Jolene.

Eyewitness testimony – Elizabeth Loftus is one of the earliest psychology researchers to study reconstructive memory. She was studying eyewitness testimonies, and was especially interested in whether language can affect memory.

Bumped, hit, or smashed – In her research Loftus would show a video clip of an automobile accident. Then she would ask a series of questions about the accident. She would change the way she worded the questions, for example, sometimes she would phrase it as: “How fast would you estimate the car was going when it hit the other vehicle”, or “How fast would you estimate the car was going when it smashed the other vehicle.” And she would ask participants in the study if they remembered seeing broken glass.

You can guess — When she used the word smashed the estimated speed was higher than when she used the word hit. And more than twice as many people remembered seeing broken glass if the word smashed was used rather than the word hit.

So what’s the impact? — Since memories are reconstructed, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • The words you use are important. They can actually affect people’s memories.
  • You can’t rely on self-reports of past behavior. People will not remember accurately what they or others did or said.
  • Watch out for how and what you say if you are interviewing people, for example, interviewing users for a usability or user experience study. You can influence their responses with the words you use.
  • Similarly, take what users say later, when they are remembering using an interface, with a grain of salt. It’s being reconstructed.

And if you’d like to read some of Elizabeth Loftus’ seminal work in the area:

Elizabeth F. Loftus and John C. Palmer, Reconstruction of Automobile Destruction:
An Example of the Interaction Between Language and Memory, Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 13, 585-589 (1974).

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#7 — You Actually Can’t Multi-Task

#7 — You Actually Can’t Multi-Task

Thomas Hawk

I know it’s popular to think that you are multi-tasking, but the research is clear that people actually can’t multi-task, with one specific exception.

One thing at a time – For many years the psychology research has shown that people can only attend to one task at a time. Let me be even more specific. The research shows that people can attend to only one cognitive task at a time. You can only be thinking about one thing at a time. You can only be conducting one mental activity at a time. So you can be talking or you can be reading. You can be reading or you can be typing. You can be listening or you can be reading. One thing at a time.

We fool ourselves – We are pretty good at switching back and forth quickly, so we THINK we are actually multi-tasking, but in reality we are not.

The one exception — The only exception that the research has uncovered is that if you are doing a physical task that you have done very very often and you are very good at, then you can do that physical task while you are doing a mental task. So if you are an adult and you have learned to walk then you can walk and talk at the same time.

Then again, maybe there isn’t an exception –  Even this doesn’t work very well, though. A study being published in December shows that people talking on their cell phones while walking, run into people more often and don’t notice what is around them. The researchers had someone in a clown suit ride a unicycle. The people talking on a cell phone were much less likely to notice or remember the clown.

But the millennial generation can multi-task, right? – A study at Stanford University demonstrates well that multi-tasking doesn’t work, even with college students. Clifford Nass’s study (published in August of 2009 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), found that when people are asked to deal with multiple streams of information they can’t pay attention to them, can’t remember as well, and don’t switch as well as they would have thought.

So what should you do? — One thing at a time!

For more information on the Stanford study: Stanford Study on Multi-Tasking

On the clown and unicycle research: Ira E. Hyman Jr *, S. Matthew Boss, Breanne M. Wise, Kira E. McKenzie, Jenna M. . “Did you see the unicycling clown? Inattentional blindness while walking and talking on a cell phone”. Applied Cognitive Psychology, December, 2009.

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#8 — Dopamine Makes You Addicted To Seeking Information

#8 — Dopamine Makes You Addicted To Seeking Information

xorsyst

Do you ever feel like you are addicted to email or twitter or texting? Do you find it impossible to ignore your email if you see that there are messages in your inbox? Have you ever gone to Google to look up some information and 30 minutes later you realize that you’ve been reading, and linking, and searching around for a long time, and you are now searching for something totally different than before? These are all examples of your dopamine system at work.

Enter dopamine — Neuro scientists have been studying what they call the dopamine system for a while. Dopamine was “discovered” in 1958 by Arvid Carlsson and Nils-Ake Hillarp at the National Heart Institute of Sweden. Dopamine is created in various parts of the brain and is critical in all sorts of brain functions, including thinking, moving, sleeping, mood, attention, motivation, seeking, and reward.

The myth — You may have heard that dopamine controls the “pleasure” systems of the brain; that dopamine makes you feel enjoyment, pleasure, and therefore motivates you to seek out certain behaviors, such as food, sex, and drugs.

It’s all about seeking — The latest research, though is changing this view. Instead of dopamine causing us to experience pleasure, the latest research shows that dopamine causes seeking behavior. Dopamine causes us to want, desire, seek out, and search. It increases our general level of arousal and our goal-directed behavior. (From an evolutionary stand-point this is critical. The dopamine seeking system keeps us motivated to move through our world, learn, and survive). It’s not just about physical needs such as food, or sex, but also about abstract concepts. Dopamine makes us curious about ideas and fuels our searching for information. The latest research shows that it is the opoid system (separate from dopamine) that makes us feel pleasure.

Wanting vs. liking — According to Kent Berridge, these two systems, the “wanting” (dopamine) and the “liking” (opoid) are complementary. The wanting system propels us to action and the liking system makes us feel satisfied and therefore pause our seeking. If our seeking isn’t turned off at least for a little while, then we start to run in an endless loop. The latest research shows that the dopamine system is stronger than the opoid system. We seek more than we are satisfied (back to evolution… seeking is more likely to keep us alive than sitting around in a satisfied stupor).

A dopamine-induced loop — With the internet, twitter, and texting we now have almost instant gratification of our desire to seek. Want to talk to someone right away? Send a text and they respond in a few seconds. Want to look up some information? Just type it into Google. Want to see what your friends are up to? Go to Twitter or Facebook. We get into a dopamine induced loop… dopamine starts us seeking, then we get rewarded for the seeking which makes us seek more. It becomes harder and harder to stop looking at email, stop texting, stop checking our cell phones to see if we have a message or a new text.

Anticipation is better than getting — Brain scan research shows that our brains show more stimulation and activity when we ANTICIPATE a reward than when we get one. Research on rats shows that if you destroy dopamine neurons, rats can walk, chew, and swallow, but will starve to death even when food is right next to them. They have lost the desire to go get the food.

More, more, more — Although wanting and liking are related, research also shows that the dopamine system doesn’t have satiety built in. It is possible for the dopamine system to keep saying “more more more”,  seeking even when we have found the information. During that Google exploration we know that we have the answer to the question we originally asked, and yet we find ourselves looking for more information and more and more.

Unpredictability is the key — Dopamine is also stimulated by unpredictability. When something happens that is not exactly predictable, that stimulates the dopamine system. Think about these electronic gadgets and devices. Our emails and tweets and texts show up, but we don’t know exactly when they will or whom they will be from. It’s unpredictable. This is exactly what stimulates the dopamine system. It’s the same system at work for gambling and slot machines. (For those of you reading this who are “old school” psychologists, you may remember “variable reinforcement schedules”. Dopamine is involved in variable reinforcement schedules. This is why these are so powerful).

When you hear the “ding” that you have a text — The dopamine system is especially sensitive to “cues” that a reward is coming. If there is a small, specific cue that signifies that something is going to happen, that sets off our dopamine system. So when there is a sound when a text message or email arrives, or a visual cue, it enhances the addictive effect (for the psychologists out there: remember Pavlov).

140 characters is even more addictive — And the dopamine system is most powerfully stimulated when the information coming in is small so that it doesn’t full satisfy. A short text or tweet (can only be 140 characters!) is ideally suited to send our dopamine system raging.

Not without costs — This constant stimulation of the dopamine system can be exhausting. We are getting caught in an endless dopamine loop.

Write a comment and share whether you get caught in these dopamine loops and whether you think we should use what we know about these systems to create devices and websites that stimulate them.

And for those of you who like research:

Kent C. Berridge and Terry E. Robinson, What is the role of dopamine in reward: hedonic impact, reward
learning, or incentive salience?: Brain Research Reviews 28 1998. 309–369.

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#9 — Blue and Red Together is Hard On Your Eyes (Chromostereopsis)

#9 — Blue and Red Together is Hard On Your Eyes (Chromostereopsis)

Wikimedia

What is it about red and blue? — When lines (or letters) of different colors are projected or printed, the depths of the lines may appear to be different; lines of one color may “jump out” while lines of another color are recessed. This effect is called Chromostereopsis. This effect is strongest with red and blue, but it can also happen with other colors (for example, red and green).

So what? – In addition to causing a depth effect, chromostereopsis can also be annoying and hard on the eyes. It is fatiguing. Although there are different theories as to why your eyes react to these color combinations in the way that they do, the important thing to remember is that they do.

What should you do about it? – If you are a visual or web designer make sure that you are not using red and blue together in this way. I still find web sites that have this color combination. Here are a few!

 

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#10 — You Want More Choices and Information Than You Can Actually Process

#10 — You Want More Choices and Information Than You Can Actually Process

What Makes Them Click

If you stand in any aisle in any retail store in the USA you will be inundated with choices. Whether you are buying candy, cereal, TVs, jeans, you name it, you will likely have a huge number of items to choose from. This is because people want lots of choices. If you ask someone whether they would like to choose from a few alternatives or have lots of choices, most people will say that they want lots of choices.

Too Many Choices and We Freeze — In my book, Neuro Web Design, What makes them click? I talk about the classic research in the field of choice. Iyengar and Lepper (2000) decided to test out the theory that if you have too many choices you don’t choose at all. They  set up booths at a busy upscale grocery store  and posed as store employees. They alternated the selection on the table. Half of the time there were six choices of fruit jam for people to try and the other half of the time there were twenty-four jars of jam.
Which Table Had More Visitors? — When there were twenty-four jars of jam, 60% of the people coming by would stop and taste. When there were six jars of jam only 40% of the people would stop and taste. So having more choices was better, right? Nope, that’s wrong.

Which Table Resulted in More Tasting? You would think that people would taste more jam when the table had twenty-four different varieties. But they didn’t. People tasted only a few varieties whether there were six or twenty-four choices available. People can only deal with 3 to 4 things at one time (see the post on 100 Things You Should Know about People: #3 — You Can Only Remember 3 to 4 Things At A Time (The Magic Number 3 or 4)).

Which Table Resulted in More Purchases? 31% of the people who stopped at the table with six jars actually made a purchase. But only 3% of the people who stopped at the table with twenty-four jars actually made a purchase. So even though more people stopped by, less people purchased. To give you an example of the numbers, if 100 people came by (they actually had more than that in the study, but 100 makes the calculations easy for our purposes), 60 of them would stop and try the jam at the twenty four jar table, but only two of them would make a purchase. Forty people would stop and try the jam at the six-jar table, and twelve of them would actually make a purchase.

Why Can’t You Stop? – So if “less is more” then why are you always wanting more choices? It’s part of that dopamine effect again. We find information addictive. It is only when we are confident of our decision that we stop seeking more information.  (see the post on 100 Things You Should Know About People: #8 — Dopamine Makes You Addicted To Seeking Information)

What should you do if you are trying to sell something? –  Resist the impulse to provide lots and lots of choices to your customers. Remember they will SAY they want lots of choices, and you will think that lots of choices is a good thing (because you like them too), but too many choices means they won’t buy at all.

What should you do if you are the consumer? –  Stay aware of when you have gone over 3 to 4 choices or 3 to 4 points of information. Start some new habits by making “rules” for yourself. For example, make a rule, that when you have 4 pieces of information or 4 choices lined up that you will either stop seeking more information and make your decision/choice, or at least take a break from your searching so you can break the dopamine loop. It takes a while to replace an old habit with a new one, so you may have to be patient. And I’ll tell you the truth… I think that the dopamine reaction is so strong you may not be able to ever really stop this information seeking/choice seeking loop. But you can always try!

And for those of you who like research:

Iyengar, Sheena S. and Mark R. Lepper. 2000. When choice is demotivating: Can one desire too much of a good thing?. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 79: 995-1006.

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#11 — Why You Can’t Resist Paying Attention to Food, Sex, or Danger

#11 — Why You Can’t Resist Paying Attention to Food, Sex, or Danger

Have you ever wondered why traffic always slows when people are driving by an accident? Do you moan about the fact that people are attracted by the gruesome, and yet find that you glance over too as you drive by? Well, it’s not really your fault, you (and everybody else) can’t resist looking at scenes of danger. It’s your “old brain” telling you to PAY ATTENTION.

You have 3 brains — In my book, Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? I talk about the idea that you really don’t have one brain, you have three. The “new brain” is the conscious, reasoning, logical brain that you think you know best; the mid brain” is the part of the brain that processes emotions, and the “old brain” is the part of the brain that is most interested in your survival.

From reptiles to people — If you look at brains from an evolutionary perspective, the “old brain” developed first (hence the name “old brain”!). In fact, that part of our brain is very similar to the brain of a reptile, which is why some people call it the “reptilian” brain.

“Can I eat it? Can I have sex with it? Will it kill me?” – The job of your old brain is to constantly scan the environment and answer the questions: “Can I eat it? Can I have sex with it? Will it kill me?” That’s really all the old brain cares about, is food sex and danger. When you think about it, this is important. Without food you’ll die, without sex the species won’t continue, and if you are killed the other two questions don’t matter. So animal brains developed early on to care intensely about these three topics. As animals evolved they developed other capacities (emotions, logical thought), but they retained a part of their brain to always be scanning what is going on for these three critical questions.

You Can’t Resist — What this means is that you just can’t resist noticing food, sex, or danger. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to not notice these 3 things in your surroundings, you will always notice them. It’s the old brain working. You don’t necessarily have to do anything once you notice, for example, you don’t have to eat the chocolate cake when you see it, you don’t have to flirt with the attractive person who walked into the room, and you don’t have to run away from the large scary guy that walked in the room with the good looking woman. But you WILL notice all of those things whether you want to or not.

Cake, Pretty Woman, and a Crash on the home page — I get emails from people who have read about the old brain in my book. They will write to me wanting advice about how they should fit a picture of cake, a woman in a bikini, and an industrial accident all at the home page of their corporate website. (I do get some interesting emails!). I’m not advocating that you do that! I am pointing out that if you want to get someone’s attention at a website, then any images or headlines that include or imply food, sex, or danger will definitely get attention. But you will have to decide what is appropriate!

Have you seen any good examples of websites that use these ideas effectively (besides just sex sites — don’t send me URLs for those)?

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#12 — When it comes to technology, you definitely “act your age”

#12 — When it comes to technology, you definitely “act your age”

Let’s start with full disclosure: I’m a baby boomer. Ok, I’ve gotten that out of the way.  I do have two millenial children (now young adults), and most of the people I work with are Gen Xers.

How did people get together before cell phones? — My son (age 20) recently asked me how people ever got together when I was growing up. “There weren’t cell phones, so how did you ever arrange to get together to hang out?”, he asked. I had to stop and think about that for a while. “Well”, I answered, “We had regular phones. We were at home a lot, and we’d call each other on the phone and set up a day and time and place to meet. It was all done way ahead of time. And then we had maybe one or two places we would hang out. So if you called someone and they weren’t there (remember, no answering machines or voice mail either), then you’d go drive around (there was a lot of driving around) to the one or two (or maybe three) places that everyone tended to hang out, and eventually you’d find who you were looking for.” It kind of worked, although it meant that you spent most of your time looking for each other!

Generational definitions — I’ve done some of my own exploratory research on generational differences in the last few years. Here are the age group definitions I’m using for this blog post: millenials (born between 1982 and 2002), Gen X’ers (1961-1981) and Boomers (1943-1961). I focused in my research on differences in technology use and expectations. Here are some of my findings:

  1. Dualism vs. Ubiquitous – Boomers think that technology is a separate thing. They “go on” the internet. They “make a call on the cell phone”. They look something up “on the computer”. They have a distinction between doing a task and the “tool” that they do the task with. Millennials don’t have that dualism or separation. They look something up (of course they are doing it on the computer… why would you even think to say it that way?). They make a call or text someone… the technology is implied and assumed.
  2. Is the technology trapping us? — Gen Xers live their life with technology. They work with it, they use it to be more productive. They like to customize and personalize. The Gen Xers are actually the group that is most enamored by technology, but at the same time they feel trapped by it. Boomers, on the other hand, remember life without it, so Boomers may use it and may be addicted to it like everyone else (see my blog post on Dopamine Makes You Addicted To Seeking Information), but they can more easily let it go and live without it. Interestingly, millennials have integrated all the various technologies into their lives, but they are the ones that will say, “We need to talk more instead of all this texting.” or “People are forgetting how to even just talk to each other”, or “I don’t use email. It’s a hassle and it’s too impersonal. If I need to communicate I call them or text or facebook”.
  3. No one likes small fonts – All the generations I interviewed for my research commented on how much they dislike small fonts online. We think we only need larger fonts if we have a lot of Boomers in our target audience, but all of the generations commented that text was often too small.
  4. Like things to scroll? – Boomers don’t like things that move and scroll on the page, such as banners that change. They REALLY don’t like that — it is a reason why they would abandon a site. Gen Xers are fine with these moving parts and Millennials will get bored without them.
  5. Interesting and fun — Millennials expect websites to be at least interesting, if not fun. Gen Xers and Boomers are willing to give up fun if the site can be customized for them (Gen Xers), or it’s a useful tool (Boomers).
  6. Twitter and Facebook – Gen Xers love twitter. Millennials prefer Facebook. Boomers are trying both, but are still a little bewildered.
  7. Gen Xers are outnumbered — You’ve heard how large the Boomer generation is in numbers, right? (78,000,000 in the US). The Millennials are an even larger group (80,000,000 in the US). The Gen Xers are a much smaller group (55,000,000).
  8. Gen Xers have to guard against design bias – If you are a Gen Xer you have to be really careful. Gen Xers are doing most of the website design. But most of the people they are designing for are not them! They have to make sure they are not just designing for themselves, and they have to test their design with different generations.
  9. Millennials are most affected by “people like me” – If you have pictures of people at your website the millennials are the most sensitive to what the people look like, especially to how old they are. I’ve seen millennials glance at the page they landed on at a website and click out of it within 1 or 2 seconds because, “this site isn’t for me. That woman was old” (by the way, the woman looked about 35 to me!).
  10. They are not going to “grow out of it” – Sometimes when I give talks on this topic people will ask me, “Isn’t this just an artifact because these people are young? Soon they will grow up and get married and have children and then they will be just like all the other Gen Xers, right?”. I don’t believe this. The differences are deep and have been ingrained since childhood. The Millennials are not going to grow into Gen Xers, just like the Gen Xers are not going to grow into Boomers.

What do you think? Which generation are you? Do you have to design for other generations? What do you do to make sure you aren’t just designing for yourself?

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#13 — Want To Change a Habit? Use Fun, Surprise, and a Crowd

Have a habit that you want to change? Or maybe you are trying to change the behavior of people at work? Or you want to change the behavior of people coming to your blog or website? If you read any of the research on habits you will find that habits are hard to change. (I’ll do a separate post on that shortly). You can change habits, but it takes a lot of work. Or maybe not?

Have you seen the video on the musical stairs? Many of you probably have. If so, watch it again before reading on, and if you haven’t then you’ll enjoy it. I believe that there are some lessons about habit change in the video:

Shortcuts to changing habits — I’ve been thinking about that video and I am thinking that there might be ways to shortcut all the work it takes to change a habit, or at least jump start the process. Based on the video here are 3 ideas I’ve come up with:

Make it fun – When you are changing a habit, you substitute a new habit for the old one. To jump start this process, make the new habit fun. It will probably need to be a lot more fun for it to even begin to be enticing.

Make it a surprise – People like surprises (as long as the surprise is pleasant or fun). Research on the brain shows that surprises capture human interest and attention. There is also research to show that things that are unpredictable elicit activity in the parts of the brain that anticipate rewards. If you surprise people you will therefore get their attention, and prime them to think that what comes next might be pleasurable (Berns, McClure, Montague, 2001).

Use a crowd — In my book, Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? I have a chapter on social validation. The research in this area shows that people are influenced by the behavior of others. When they see lots of people doing something they will tend to join in.

The musical stairs in the video had all three elements. Having stairs that look like a piano and make piano sounds is fun, and also a surprise. On top of that, everyone else was using the stairs… and there you have it, people are ready to use the stairs.

We don’t know if this use the stairs habit would sustain, or what happens when you take the musical stairs away. But next time I am choosing a new habit to try and replace an old habit, I’m going to pay attention to the factors of fun, surprise, and social validation.

And for those of you who like to read research:

Berns, GS, McClure, SM, Montague, PR (2001) Predictability modulates human brain response to reward. J. Neuroscience 21(8):2793-2798

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#14 — Reading Text Online Is Not Fun

#14 — Reading Text Online Is Not Fun

What Makes Them Click

It’s the holiday season right now in the USA which means that people are talking about what they want as a gift. I would like a Kindle or one of the new Barnes and Noble competitors to the Kindle. Since we are being frugal in our household this year I don’t think I’m going to get one (and I haven’t read the reviews yet to see whether I want the Kindle or the new B&N competitor).

Is a Kindle the same as text online? — It might seem contradictory, then, for me to say I want a Kindle and then write a post about the idea that reading text online is not fun. But actually I am not talking about the same thing at all. I’ve tried a Kindle, and the liquid ink technology is different than LCD displays on a laptop or a desktop monitor. Reading text on a computer screen is admittedly better than it was years ago. I go back to the dreaded “green screen” days, and I can say with certainty that reading text on my MacBook Pro is a lot better than reading text on the green (or amber — how many of you remember amber?) and black screens from yester year.

It’s the luminescence – Computer screens however, have a different lighting display than the Kindle, and certainly are different than reading on paper. When you are reading text on paper the light is reflected off the paper and back to your eyes. When you are reading text on a computer screen the reflections of room or sunlight are different.

So what’s the result? – The result is that reading text online is tiring to the eyes. People are only going to read a limited amount of text at a time on a computer screen. If you want people to read text on a computer screen you have to do the following:

Break the text up into chunks — use bullets, short paragraphs, pictures and any other means you can to break the text up. People will read a few lines of text on a computer screen and then skip to the next paragraph, so break it up.

Use a font that is easy to read — There have been “font wars” for years. The research shows that the font you use is not a big deal as long as it is basically readable. Meaning don’t use an overly decorative font for a block of text.

Use a font size that is easy to read – Even younger people complain about small fonts.

Use black text on a white background or close to that – You need enough difference between foreground and background. Black text on a white background is the most readable.

Make the content worth it – In the end it all boils down to whether what is on the page is of interest to the reader. If it is then the reader will be more patient with having to read the text online.

So what do you think? Do you have a Kindle or the new B&N device? Do you think it is different than reading text on a computer screen? Are you an avid text reader online?

If you are interested in reading the research about font type and reading more about typography and readability here are two great websites:

http://www.hgrebdes.com/typefaces
http://www.alexpoole.info/academic/literaturereview.html

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#15 — If You Use Social Media Without Laughter You Aren’t Being Social

#15 — If You Use Social Media Without Laughter You Aren’t Being Social

If you engage in social media are you being social? You email, you text, you twitter, you leave voicemails for people, so you are plugged in, right? Well, actually not. In all of these means of communication you are not actually physically interacting with another person. True social bonding requires a physical reaction to the presence of other people. Do you tend to work alone a lot? At your desk on your computer? Then maybe you aren’t being as social as you think. And this lack of physical contact may actually affect the quality of the work that you and your team does.

The Neuroscience of Social Bonding — People are social animals. In order to work together they have to have social interactions. There are complicated hormonal and chemical changes that occur in your brain and throughout your body when you bond with others. In this post I’ll focus on just one mechanism of social bonding — laughter.

Research on Laughter – Considering how universal laughter is and how much of it we do, there is, relatively, not a lot of research on laughter. One of the main researchers is Robert Provine from University of Maryland. Here is a summary of some of the research he has done… some of these findings may surprise you:

  • Laughter is universal: All humans in all cultures laugh
  • Laughter is unconscious: You can’t actually laugh on command — it will be fake laughter if you try to.
  • Laughter is for social communication: We rarely laugh when we are alone. We laugh 30 times more often when we are with others.
  • Laughter is contagious: We will smile and then start laughing as we hear others laugh.
  • Laughter appears early in babies: at about 4 months old
  • Laughter is not about humor: Provine studied over 2,000 cases of naturally occurring laughter and most of it did not happen as a result of “humor” such as telling jokes. Most laughter followed statements such as “Hey John, where ya been?” or “Here comes Mary”, or “How did you do on the test?” Laughter after these types of statements bond people together socially. Only 20% of laughter is from jokes.
  • We rarely laugh in the middle of a sentence. It is usually at the end.
  • Other primate and mammals laugh. There are videos of rats laughing while being tickled.
  • Speaking of tickling, laughing seems to have “evolved” from tickling.
  • Most laughing occurs by the person who is speaking, not the person who is listening. The person who is speaking laughs twice as much.
  • Women laugh more than twice as much as men.
  • Laughter denotes social status. The higher up on the hierarchy you are in a group, the less you will laugh.

An example: the challenge of remote teams — I work a lot with remote teams. You may also be familiar with the challenges. You may have to deal with time zone differences, less than optimal phone connections, language barriers, but I wonder if you’ve considered that the biggest challenge may be lack of social bonding and lack of in-person laughter. Even if everyone is in the same building, if they aren’t working together in person then there is a lack of social bonding. Consider at least having periodic phone calls so that there can be some laughter. If you talk on the phone then you can at least hear each other laugh, even if you are missing the in-person cues. If at all possible, get together with other people from your work team in person for at least one meeting now and then. That way laughing and social bonding will occur, and even if you work apart the rest of the time you will have had some experience of social bonding.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? We use “social media” the most when we aren’t being social!

For more reading: Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, by Robert Provine, 2001.

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#16 — The Ability To Delay Gratification Or Not Starts Young

You want to buy that Kindle, but you are thinking maybe you should wait for a while. Maybe you should see if the price comes down after the holiday shopping season, or maybe you should make sure that you have enough cash to pay all of your credit card bills before you spend money on a new gadget for yourself. Do you wait or not?

Whether you are the type of person who can delay gratification or whether you aren’t, chances are high that you’ve been this way (a delayer or not a delayer) since you were a young child.

Here is one of my favorite psychology research videos. Watch these little kids decide whether to eat the one marshmallow that is put in front of them, or wait and thereby get 2 marshmallows:

The original research from the 1960′s — Starting in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Walter Mischel began conducting a series of studies similar to the video. He was interested in the idea of delayed gratification. Years later he decided to follow up with the original people in his study. He found that when the people in the study who were able to delay gratification became teenagers, they were more successful in school, received higher test scores on the SAT, and were better able to cope with stress and frustration. He’s followed them even further into adulthood and the differences continue. The children in the original studies that could not delay gratification as pre-schoolers, were more likely to have problems as adults, including drug abuse.

Waiting for the fMRI studies — Jonah Lehrer recently wrote in the New Yorker that Ozlem Ayduk from UC Berkeley is having  these same “children” (who are now adults)  come back to the lab. The researchers are using fMRI brain imaging to get a better look at the parts of the brain that are active in delayed gratification.

Any hope for the people who can’t wait? — Mischel is supposedly working on tools and techniques that can be taught to the people who don’t/can’t delay gratification. Apparently it is possible to teach people to distract themselves enough so they can wait.

In the meantime, maybe you should buy that Kindle so you’ll be ready to read the research?
Shoda, Y., Mischel, W., Peake, P. K. (1990). Predicting adolescent cognitive and self-regulatory competencies from preschool delay of gratification: Identifying diagnostic conditions. Developmental Psychology, 26(6), 978–986.

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#17 — Your Unconscious Knows First

You are shopping for a new computer and the salesperson you are talking to is offering you what seems to be a good deal. And yet there is a part of you that feels uncomfortable and isn’t sure if this is the right computer, or the right deal, or the right store for you. If you had to articulate why you felt uncomfortable you might not be able to say why, or you’d make up a reason, but that might not really be the reason. So what’s going on?

Your unconscious mind is faster than your conscious mind – One of my favorite pieces of research is the study by Bechara and Damasio. It’s a little complicated to explain, so a few months ago I put together a short video “re-enactment” to help describe the research. I have a summary below as well:

A card game — The subjects in the study played a gambling game with decks of cards. Each person received $2,000 of pretend money. They were told that the goal was to lose as little of the $2,000 as possible, and to try to make as much over the $2000 as possible. There were four decks of cards on the table. The participant turned over a card from any of the four decks, one card at a time. They continued turning over a card from the deck of their choice until the experimenter told them to stop. They didn’t know when the game would end. The participant was told that every time they turned over a card, they earned money. They were also told that sometimes when they turned over a card, they  earned money but also lost money (by paying it to the experimenter).

The participants didn’t know any of the rules of the gambling game. But here are what the rules actually were:

  • If they turned over any card in decks A or B, they earned $100. If they turned over any card in decks C and D, they earned only $50.
  • Some cards in decks A and B also required participants to pay the experimenter a lot of money, sometimes as much as $1,250. Some cards in decks C and D also required participants to pay the experimenter, but the amount they had to pay was only an average of $100.
  • Over the course of the game, decks A and B produced net losses if participants continued using them. Continued use of decks C and D rewarded participants with net gains.
  • The rules of never changed. Although participants didn’t know this, the game ended after 100 cards had been “played” (turned over).

The unconscious figures out first what is going on – Most participants started by trying all four decks. At first, they gravitated toward decks A and B because those decks paid out $100 per turn. But after about 30 turns, most  turned to decks C and D. They then continued turning cards in decks to C and D until the game ended. During the study, the experimenter stopped the game several times to ask participants about the decks. The participants were connected to a skin conductance sensor to measure their SCR (skin conductance response). Their SCR readings were elevated when they played decks A and B (the “dangerous” decks) long before participants consciously realized that A and B were dangerous. When the participants played decks A and B, their SCRs increased even before they touched the cards in the decks. Their SCRs increased when they thought about using decks A and B. Their unconscious knew that decks A and B were “dangerous” and resulting in a loss. We know that because we see the spike in the SCR. However, that’s all unconscious. The conscious mind didn’t know yet that anything is wrong yet.

The conscious mind starts to catch up — Eventually participants said they had a “hunch” that decks C and D were better, but the SCR shows that the old brain figured this out long before the new brain “got” it. By the end of the game, most participants had more than a hunch and could articulate the difference in the two decks, but a full 30 percent of the participants couldn’t explain why they preferred decks C and D. They said they just thought those decks were better.

The old brain is afraid of losing – In my book, Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? I talk about this study in the context of fear of losing. The “old” brain (unconscious) is always on the look-out to protect us from losing. It will detect potential loss in our environment and steer us to take less risks.
What do you think? How do you think you can apply this knowledge? What would you do if you were the person buying the computer at the beginning of this post? What if you were the salesperson trying to sell the computer to the person?

(Thank you goes to Cole Bitting for coming up with a better and shorter title for this post than I originally had!)

And if you like to read research, here’s the original study:

Deciding Advantageously Before Knowing Advantageous Strategy
Bechara et al.
Science 28 February 1997: 1293

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#18 — What People Look At On a Picture Or Screen Depends On What You Say To Them

Eye tracking is a technology that allows you to see and record what a person is looking at, and for how long. One way it is used is to study web sites to see where people are looking on a web page, where they look first, second, etc. It’s a pretty interesting technology, one of the benefits being that you don’t have to rely on what people SAY they are looking at, but can collect the data directly. Like any technology, however, it’s not perfect, and one of the problems with eye tracking is that you can’t just give people a web site to look at and then assume that where they look is what they are “really interested” in.

We underestimate the effect our instructions have on where someone looks. Look at the picture at the beginning of this post. In research by Yarbus, people were shown this picture, and then given different instructions of what to think about while looking at the picture. Below are the eye gaze patterns matched with the instructions that people were given:

Proceed with caution. To me this data says: a) If you are using eye tracking as a technique to evaluate how people are using your website then you must be very careful about the instructions you give, and you must make sure you are giving everyone the exact same instructions. b) You can’t assume that just because people look at one spot on your website when they first see it that they will always look there. It might depend on what they were coming back to do. c) It’s nice to have a measure that doesn’t rely on what the user says or how they think they are reacting, but even these “objective” measures aren’t as objective as we think!

This research is from way back, but I believe it is still relevant. I haven’t found any recent replication of it yet. If you know of any please do pass on the reference:

Yarbus, A. L. (1967). Eye Movements and Vision (B. Haigh, trans.), New York: Plenum

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#19 — It’s a Myth That All Capital Letters Are Inherently Harder to Read

WHAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO READ IN THE NEXT PARAGRAPH IS COMMONLY BELIEVED, BUT NOT TRUE – You read by recognizing the shapes of words and groups of words. Words that are in all capital letters all have the same shape: a rectangle of a certain size. This makes words displayed in all uppercase harder to read than upper and lower case (known as “mixed case”).  Mixed case words are easier to read because they make unique shapes, as demonstrated by the picture below.

OK, NOW THE TRUE STUFF STARTS — When I started this article the topic was supposed to be why all capital letters are harder to read. Like most people with a usability background or a cognitive psychology background, I can describe the research — just what I wrote in the first paragraph above. I decided to look up and cite the actual research rather than just passing on the general knowledge and belief.

The research doesn’t exist, or “It’s complicated” — Something happened when I went to find the research on the shape of words and how that is related to all capital letters being harder to read. There isn’t research showing that exactly. It’s more complicated, and ultimately, more controversial. In July of 2004 Kevin Larson wrote an article that is posted at the Microsoft website that explains in depth all the research on this topic. I’ve picked out several ideas from that article and am presenting them here. A link to Kevin’s article, plus some of his research citations are at the end of this blog for those of you who want more detail.

It’s parallel letter recognition, not word shape — The old theory on word shapes comes from a psycholinguist named Cattell who came up with that theory in 1886. There was some evidence for it, but more recent research shows that it is letters you are recognizing and anticipating. You don’t recognize words by the shape of the word. You recognize familiar letter sequences. The research strongly suggests that you recognize all the letters in a word at the same time, and then you use the recognition of those letters to recognize the word.

How you read – When you read you have the impression that your eyes are smoothly moving across the page, that’s not what is happening at all. Your eyes move in quick sharp jumps, with short periods of stillness in between. The quick jumps are called saccades and the fixations are the moments of stillness. Interestingly during the saccades you can’t see anything — you are essentially blind. Fortunately these saccades are really fast so you are not blind for long. They are so fast that you don’t even realize you are having them.

Example of fixations and saccades

How much do you read at a time? –  A saccade jumps you about 7-9 letters, but your perceptual span is actually double that. When you are reading your eyes are “looking ahead” using your peripheral vision to see what is coming next. Some interesting eye tracking studies have been done in which the researchers switch out the letters during the saccade. Then they see what kinds of errors you make. I won’t go into the detail of this research (references are below if you want to dig more). But the summary is that you read ahead about 15 letters at a time. When you pick up those 15 letters you always pick them up to the right (if you are reading left to right), although now and then your saccade jumps you backwards and you re-read a section of letters.

Here’s the bottom line – That’s probably more than you wanted to know about how you read! Here’s the summary: You read by anticipating the letters that will be in words, and then recognizing those letters. All capital (uppercase) letters are slower for people to read, but only because they aren’t used to them. Mixed case text is only faster to read than uppercase letters because of practice. Most of what you read is mixed case, and so you are used to it. If people practice reading text that is in all capital letters they can get to the point where they are reading that text as fast as they usually read mixed case. This doesn’t mean you should start using uppercase or capital letters for all of your text. People are not used to reading that way, so it will slow them down, and these days it’s perceived as “shouting”. But now you know that uppercase letters are not inherently harder to read. Maybe we can start dislodging that myth?

And, here’s some links and research citations:

Kevin Larson’s article is at: http://www.microsoft.com/typography/ctfonts/wordrecognition.aspx

Adams, M.J. (1979). Models of word recognition. Cognitive Psychology, 11, 133-176.

Bouma, H. (1973). Visual Interference in the Parafoveal Recognition of Initial and Final Letters of Words, Vision Research, 13, 762-782.

Bouwhuis, D. & Bouma, H. (1979). Visual word recognition of three letter words as derived from the recognition of the constituent letters, Perception and Psychophysics, 25, 12-22.

Cattell, J. (1886). The time taken up by cerebral operations. Mind, 11, 277-282, 524-538. Fisher, D.F. (1975). Reading and visual search. Memory and Cognition, 3, 188-196.

Haber, R.N. & Schindler, R.M. (1981). Errors in proofreading: Evidence of syntactic control of letter processing? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 7, 573-579. Hebb, D.O. (1949). The organization of behavior. New York: Wiley.

McClelland, J.L. & Johnson, J.C. (1977). The role of familiar units in perception of words and nonwords. Perception and Psychophysics, 22, 249-261.

McConkie, G.W. & Rayner, K. (1975). The span of the effective stimulus during a fixation in reading. Perception and Psychophysics, 17, 578-586. Meyer, D.E. &

Paap, K.R., Newsome, S.L., & Noel, R.W. (1984). Word shape’s in poor shape for the race to the lexicon. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 10, 413-428.

Pollatsek, A. & Rayner, K. (1982). Eye movement control in reading: The role of word boundaries. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 8, 817-833.

Pollatsek, A., Well, A.D., & Schindler, R.M. (1975). Effects of segmentation and expectancy on matching time for words and nonwords. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 1, 328-338.

Rayner, K. (1998). Eye movements in reading and information processing: 20 years of research. Psychological Review, 124 (3), 372-422.

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#20 — Your Attention Is Riveted By Pictures Of People

#20 — Your Attention Is Riveted By Pictures Of People

Second only to movement (animation, video), pictures of a human face capture attention in any medium, including websites. Pictures of a human face not only capture attention, but keep the attention on that part of the screen even when the picture goes away.

We start young — With some creative experiments it has been proven that babies as young as 4 months old will look at pictures of other people more than pictures of other objects or of animals. And this preference for faces continues throughout the life span. It seems to be part of our brain wiring.

The eyes have it – Research using eye tracking shows that when you show people a picture of the face of a person, their attention goes mostly to the eyes. If you want to capture someone’s attention at a website, showing a picture of a person who is looking right into the camera captures the most attention.

Special unconscious brain processing – The latest research implies that there is a part of the brain that is focused on recognizing human faces, as well as interpreting the emotion that is on the human face. Fearful and angry faces get the most and quickest attention, but any face gets a lot of attention. The circuitry in the brain from this specialized spot is believe to go right to the amygdala, which processes emotions. So it is fast, since it doesn’t have to go through the normal route that most vision goes through (the cortex and conscious mind). This means that you are processing faces unconsciously.

You look where the eyes look — Some practitioners have been investigating whether where the eyes are looking in the picture affects where your eye looks when you look at the picture. James Breeze has an interesting blog post and some eye tracking data on this. The eye tracking data shows that if a web site has a picture of a person seemingly “looking” at a certain part of the screen or page, then the person viewing that picture will tend to look at the same spot.

Bottom line advice for your website – Use pictures to capture and hold attention at your website. For the most effect, use pictures that are close-up shots and where the person is looking right at the camera. If you want people to look at something in particular on the page besides the picture, then have the person in the photo “looking” at that spot on the page.

For more information, there is a research reference below, and also check out James Breeze’s blog post: http://usableworld.com.au/2009/03/16/you-look-where-they-look/

Jan Theeuwes and Stefan Van der Stigchel, “Faces capture attention”, Visual Cognition, Volume 13 , Issue 6,  April 2006 , pages 657 – 665.

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#21 — You Overestimate Your Reactions to Future Events

#21 — You Overestimate Your Reactions to Future Events

Cafeterra.info

Here’s is a thought experiment – On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest, rate how happy you are right now. Write that number down. Now, I want you to imagine that today you win the lottery. You now have more money than you ever thought you would. You have millions and millions of dollars. At the end of today what would be your happiness rating? Write that number down. What about 2 years from now? What will be your happiness rating 2 years from now if today you win millions and millions in the lottery?

People are poor predictors — In his great book, Stumbling on Happiness, Dan Gilbert discusses the research he and others have conducted on predicting or estimating emotional reactions to events. What he has found is that people greatly overestimate the reaction they think they will have to both pleasant and unpleasant events that happen in one’s life. Whether it is predicting how you will feel if a negative event happens, for example, if you lose your job, have an accident, or if a loved one dies, or predicting how you will feel if a positive event happens, such as coming into a lot of money, landing the dream job, or finding the perfect boyfriend or girlfriend, everyone tends to overestimate their reaction. If the event is negative you predict that you will be very upset and devastated for a long time. If the event is positive you predict that you will be deliriously happy for a long time.

A built-in regulator — The truth is that you have a built-in regulator of sorts so that whether negative events happen or positive events happen, you stay at about the same level of happiness most of the time. Some people are generally happier or less happy than others, and this level of happiness stays constant no matter what happens to them.

Preference vs. Reality – One interesting implication of this is in the field of marketing or user experience research. Be careful of believing customers if they tell you that by making this change or that change to a product that means that they would be much happier with it, or that they would never use it again. People may prefer one thing over another or think they will, but the strength of their reaction, either in a positive or a negative way, is probably not as much as they imagine it will be.

Have you experienced this difference between your own predictions and reactions? Have there been times when you were sure that a particular event would mean you would be really happy or unhappy and it turned out differently than you imagined?

For more reading:

Stumbling on Happiness By Dan Gilbert

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#22 — Peripheral Vison — Keeping You Alive or Channel Surfing?

#22 — Peripheral Vison — Keeping You Alive or Channel Surfing?

You have probably heard the term “peripheral vision”, but did you know that you use your peripheral vision to get the gist of the scene around you?

Two kinds of vision — Basically, you have two types of vision: Central and Peripheral. Central vision is the vision you have when you look at something directly and see the details. Peripheral vision is the rest of the visual field that is visible, but that you are not looking directly at.

Keeping you alive on the savannah — The theory, from an evolutionary point of view, is that thousands of years ago, people who were sharpening their flint, or looking up at the clouds, and yet still noticed that a lion was coming at them from their peripheral vision survived to pass on their genes. So peripheral vision has always been important.

Why blinking on a screen is so annoying – Humans can’t help but notice movement in our peripheral vision. We are “programmed” to pay attention to movement in the border of our vision. If you are reading text on a computer screen and there is some animation moving or blinking off to the side you can’t help but look at it. This can be quite annoying if you are trying to concentrate on reading the text in front of you. Peripheral vision at work!

Latest research shows peripheral vision plays a larger role — New research from Kansas State University, however, shows that peripheral vision is more important in understanding the world around us than these previous theories implied. It seems that we get information on what type of scene we are looking at from our peripheral vision. We process the “gist” of what we are looking at from our peripheral vision. The researchers at Kansas State showed people photographs of common scenes, for example a photograph of a kitchen or a living room. In some of the photographs the outside of the image was obscured, and in others the central part of the images were obscured. The images were shown for very short amounts of time. Then they asked the research participants what they were looking at.

Peripheral vision was more important – What they found is that if the central part of the photo was missing people could still identify what they were looking at. But when the peripheral part of the image was missing then they couldn’t say whether it was a living room or a kitchen.

Peripheral vision and channel surfing – Are you the type that gets hold of the remote and quickly surfs through the channels spending a split second on each one? Or are you the person who gets really annoyed when others do that! The latest theory is that these channel surfers are using peripheral vision to get the gist of what’s on the station and then moving on to the next one.

If you want to read the research:

Adam M. Larson, Lester C. Loschky. The contributions of central versus peripheral vision to scene gist recognition. Journal of Vision, 2009; 9 (10): 1 DOI: 10.1167/9.10.6

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#23 — You Are Hard-Wired For Imitation and Empathy

#23 — You Are Hard-Wired For Imitation and Empathy

If you put your face right in front of a young baby and stick out your tongue, the baby will stick out his or her tongue too. This happens from a very young age (even as young as a one month old). So? What does this have to do with anything? It’s an example of the built-in, wired-into-our-brain capacity we have for imitation. Recent research on the brain shows how our imitative behavior happens.

Mirror neurons firing– In the front of the brain there is a section called the premotor cortex; motor as in movement. This is the part of the brain where you make plans to move. (It talks to the primary motor cortex which is the part of the brain that sends out the signals that actually make you move). So if you are holding an ice cream cone and you think about moving your arm to bring the ice cream cone up to your mouth, and then you do it, you can see first the premotor cortex lighting up and then the primary motor cortex lighting up. Neurons in the premotor cortex are firing — nothing surprising there. But here is where it gets interesting. If you watch someone else lift their arm and eat the ice cream cone a subset of the same neurons also fire. Just watching other people take an action causes some of the same neurons to fire as if you were actually moving. This subset of neurons have been dubbed, “mirror neurons”. We share these mirror neurons with other primates as well.

Who is taking action? — How does your brain know when you are taking the action vs. watching someone else take the action? After your mirror neurons fire from watching your friend take a lick of the ice cream cone, there is a feedback loop. Your brain registers that no ice cream was tasted, and therefore you know that you are watching someone eat ice cream, not that you just ate ice cream.

Not just imitation but empathy too — The latest theories are that these mirror neurons are also the way we empathize with others. We are literally experiencing what others are experiencing through these mirror neurons, and that allows us to deeply, and literally, understand how another person feels.

So what’s the big deal? — What implications can you draw from knowing about mirror neurons?:

  • Don’t underestimate the power of watching someone else do something. If you want to influence someone’s behavior, then show someone else doing the same task.
  • There is research that shows that stories create images in the mind that may also trigger mirror neurons. Stories are powerful.
  • Video at a web site is especially compelling. Want people to get a flu shot? Then show a video of other people in line at a clinic getting a flu shot. Want kids to eat vegetables? Then show a video of other kids eating vegetables. Mirror neurons at work.

For more information watch the TED video of VS Ramachandran: http://bit.ly/aaiXba

Originally published on WhatMakesThemClick.net.

#24 — You Are Most Affected By Brands and Logos When You Are Sad Or Scared

#24 — You Are Most Affected By Brands and Logos When You Are Sad Or Scared

Mel B. via Flickr Creative Commons

Here’s Scenario 1: You get together with your friends to watch your home team play a game on TV. They win! After an afternoon of fun and friendship you stop at a grocery store on your way home. You are in a good mood. Are you more or less likely to buy the usual cereal you always buy or will you try something new?

Here’s Scenario 2: It’s Friday afternoon and your boss calls you in to tell you that he’s not happy with your latest project report. This is the project that you repeatedly told him was in trouble and you asked that more staff be assigned. You feel all your warnings were ignored. Now he’s telling you that this work will reflect badly on you and you may even lose your job. On the way home you stop at the grocery store. You are sad and scared. Are you more or less likely to buy the usual cereal you always buy, or will you try something new?

You Want What’s Familiar – A series of research studies by Marieke de Vries of Radboud University Nijmegen, in the Netherlands, shows that when people are sad or scared, they want what is familiar. When people are in a happy mood they are not as sensitive to what is familiar, and are willing to try something new and different.

Related to Fear of Loss — This craving of the familiar, and a preference for familiar brand is probably tied to our basic fear of loss. In my book, Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? I have a chapter on the fear of loss. When we are sad or scared, our old brain and our mid (emotional) brain are on alert. We have to protect ourselves. And a quick way to be safe is to go with what you know; what you are familiar with. A strong brand is familiar. A strong logo is familiar. So when we are sad or scared we will reach for a brand and logo we know.

It’s Easy to Change Someone’s Mood – It turns out it is remarkably easy to affect someone’s mood, especially in the short term (like long enough for them to make a purchase at a web site). In Marieke de Vries’s research they showed video clips of the Muppets (to instigate a good mood) vs. the movie Schindler’s list (to instigate a bad mood). People reported their mood as significantly elevated after the Muppets and significantly lowered after Schindler’s list. This mood change then affected their actions in the rest of the research study.

Take-Aways — If you are giving messages of fear, loss, problems etc, that will result in more action taken if your brand is familiar. If you are giving messages of fun, lightness, and humor, that will result in more action taken if your brand is new.

Have you found this to be true in your experience?

 

 

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