53 Mind-Blowing, Psychology-Proven Facts You Should Know About Yourself
- APR. 29, 2011, 2:30 PM
JPAfoto via Flickr
A few months ago, we posted 47 Mind-Blowing Psychology-Proven Facts You Should Know About Yourself as a part of psychologist Susan Weinschenk's series, 100 Things You Should Know about People.
They include fascinating facts like:
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Here are the last 53. Click here to read the first 47.
Read on to find out 53 mind-blowing facts about yourself >>Dr. Susan Weinschenk is the author of Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? and 100 Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People. All slides are articles that have been republished from her blog,Whatmakesthemclick.net, with permission.
What You See Is Not What Your Brain GetsCan you read this?:
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I came across a similar paragraph in a book on Cognitive Psychology (Solso, 2005).
What our eyes see is not what our brain ends up with – We think that we are walking around looking at the world around us with our eyes, and that our eyes are sending information to the brain which processes it and gives us a realistic experience of “what’s out there”. But the truth is that what our brain comes up with is not exactly what our eyes are actually seeing.
The great interpreter – Our brain is constantly interpreting everything it sees. Take, for example, the picture below:
What do you see? Your first reaction is probably that you are looking at a triangle with a black border in the background, and a white triangle upside down on top of it. Of course that’s not really what is there, is it? What’s there are some partial lines and some partial circles. Your brain creates the shape of an upside down triangle out of blank space, because that is what it is expecting to see. This particular illusion is called a Kanizsa triangle, named after an Italian psychologist (G. Kanizsa) that first came up with it in 1955.
Shortcuts to the world – Our brains create these shortcuts in order to try and quickly make sense out of the world around us. There are so many (millions) of sensory inputs coming into our brain every second, that it has to try to make it all make sense. So it uses rules of thumb, and extrapolates what it has experience with, to make guesses about what it is seeing. Most of the time that works, but sometimes it causes errors.
What you design may not be what people see – The take-away is that what we think people are going to see may not be what they do see. It might depend on their background, knowledge, familiarity with what they are looking at, and expectations. Conversely, we might be able to persuade people to see things in a certain way, depending on how they are presented. Here’s another example from the Solso book:
By using different colored backgrounds we can draw attention and change the meaning of the sign.
What do you think? Do you think designers use these principles to draw attention on purpose? If you are a designer do you use these ideas? If we can read so well with all these misspellings, are typos even a problem?
Here’s the Solso book reference: Cognitive Psychology, edited by Solso, 7th edition, Allyn and Bacon, 2005.
The Brain Looks For Simple Patterns
What do you see when you look at the x’s below?
xx xx xx xx
Chances are you will say you see four sets of 2 x’s each. You won’t see them as 8 separate x’s. You interpret the white space, or lack of it, as a pattern.
People are great at recognizing patterns – Recognizing patterns helps you make quick sense of all the sensory input that comes to you every second. Your eyes and your brain will want to create patterns, even if there are no real patterns there. Your brain wants to see patterns.
Individual cells respond to certain shapes – In 1959, two researchers, Hubel and Wiesel showed that there are individual cells in the visual cortex of your brain that respond only to horizontal lines, other cells that respond only to vertical lines, other cells that respond to edges, and cells that respond only to certain angles. (In 1981 Hubel and Wiesel won a Nobel price for their work on vision).
The Memory Bank Theory – Even with Hubel and Wiesel’s work in 1959, for many years the prevailing theory of pattern recognition was that you have a memory bank that stores millions of objects, and when you see an object you compare it with all the items in your memory bank until you find the one that matches.
You recognize objects by simple shapes – But research now points to the idea that we recognize certain basic shapes in what we are looking at, and we use these basic shapes, called geons, to recognize objects. Irving Biederman came up with the idea of geons in 1985. It’s thought that there are 24 basic shapes that people recognize, and that these shapes are the building blocks of the objects we see and identify.
The picture at the beginning of this article shows examples of Biederman’s geons and how they are incorporated into objects for pattern recognition.
- Use patterns as much as possible, since people will automatically be looking for them. Use grouping and white space to create patterns.
- If you want people to recognize an object quickly, use a simple geometric drawing of the object. This will make it easier to recognize the underlying geons, and thus make the object easier and faster to recognize.
And for those of you who like to read the research:
Biederman, I., Human Image Understanding: Recent Research and a Theory in Computer Vision, Graphics and Image Processing, 1985, Elsevier.
9 Percent Of Men And .5% Of Women Are Colorblind
The term color blindness is actually misleading. Most people who are “color blind” are not blind to all colors, but really have a color deficiency that makes it hard for them to see differences between some colors.
Different types of color blindness –There are many different kinds of color blindness, but the most common is a difficulty distinguishing between reds, yellows, and greens. This is called “red-green” color blindness. Other forms, such as problems distinguishing blues from yellows, or where everything looks grey, are very rare.
What people see – Let’s compare what people see who have different types of color blindness. I’ve put three different screen captures from a post at this blog. The first picture below is how it appears to someone who has no color blindness, the second is how it appears to someone with red-green color blindness, and the last one is how it appears o someone with blue-yellow color blindness.
When colors become a communication problem – So what’s the big deal you might be saying? What colors you use in your photos, illustrations, maps, etc, can become problematic if you are trying to communicate information via the colors. For example, here is a map of winter driving conditions in Wisconsin that has color coding. And below that is a map that shows what it looks like if you have red/green color blindness.
If you are going to use color as a way to communicate — then you need to have a redundant coding scheme, for example color AND line thickness so that people who are color blind will be able to decipher the coding without needing to see specific colors.
Or pick colors that work or everyone — Another approach is to pick a color scheme that will work for people who have the various types of color blindness. In the example below they have purposely picked colors that look the same for people regardless of the type of color blindness they have, and even if they are not color blind.
You can test your colors — You can use websites to check for color blindness effects.
What do you think? What approach do you use to make sure your images work for people who are color blind?
You React To Colors Based On Your Culture
Many years ago I worked with a client who had created a color map of the different business regions for their business, showing the total revenue for the quarter for each region. Yellow was for the Eastern part of the US, green for the Central, etc. They had used red for the western states. The VP of Sales gets to the podium and starts his slide show to the financial and accounting staff of the company. Up comes the colored map. A gasp can be heard in the auditorium, and then there is the buzz of urgent conversation. The VP tries to continue his talk, but he has lost everyone’s attention. They are all talking amongst themselves. Finally someone blurts out, “What the heck is going on in the West?!” “What do you mean?”, the VP asks, “Nothing is going on. They had a great quarter”.
What does red mean? – To an accountant or financial person red is a bad thing. It means that they are losing money. The presenter had to explain that they had just picked red as a random color.
Colors have associations and meanings — Red means “in the red” or financial trouble, or it could mean danger. Green means money, or “go”. You want to pick colors carefully since they have these meanings.
Color meanings change by culture – Some colors have similar meanings everywhere, for example, gold stands for success and high quality in most cultures, but most colors have different meanings in different cultures. For example, in the US, white stands for purity and is used at weddings, but in other cultures white is the color used for death and funerals. David McCandless of Informationisbeautiful.net has a color chart that shows how different colors are viewed by different cultures.
- Choose your colors carefully, taking into account the meaning that that color may invoke.
- Pick a few major cultures/countries that you will be reaching with your design and check them on the cultural color chart from David McCandless to be sure you do not have some unintended color associations for that culture.
You Know How To Do Things You've Never Done Before
Imagine that you’ve never seen an iPad, but I’ve just handed one to you and told you that you can read books on it. Before you turn on the iPad, before you use it, you have a model in your head of what reading a book on the iPad will be like. You have assumptions about what the book will look like on the screen, what things you will be able to do, and how you will do them—things like turning a page, or using a bookmark. You have a “mental model” of reading a book on the iPad, even if you’ve never done it before.
If you’ve used an iPad before, your mental model of reading a book on an iPad will be different than that of someone who has never used one, or doesn’t even know what an iPad is. If you’ve been using a Kindle for the past year, then your mental model will be different from someone who has never read a book electronically. And once you get the iPad and read a couple of books on it, whichever mental model you had in your head before will start to change and adjust to reflect your experience.
What is a mental model? – The term mental model has been around for at least the last 25 years. One of my favorite definitions is from Susan Carey’s 1986 journal article, “Cognitive science and science education”, which says:
“A mental model represents a person’s thought process for how something works (i.e., a person’s understanding of the surrounding world). Mental models are based on incomplete facts, past experiences, and even intuitive perceptions. They help shape actions and behavior, influence what people pay attention to in complicated situations, and define how people approach and solve problems.”
Users create mental models very quickly — often before they even use a website or a product. Users’ mental models come from their prior experience with similar sites or products, assumptions they have, things they’ve heard others say, and also from their direct experience with the product or device. Mental models are subject to change.
Mental models vs. conceptual models – In order to understand why mental models are so important to design, you have to also understand what a conceptual model is and how it is different from a mental model. A mental model is the representation that a person has in their minds about the object they are interacting with. A conceptual model is the actual model that is given to the person through the design and interface of the actual product. Going back to the iPad ebook example, you have a mental model about what reading a book will be like in the iPad, how it will work, what you can do with it. But when you sit down with the iPad, the “system” (the iPad) will display what the conceptual model of the book app actually is. There will be screens, and buttons, and things that happen. The actual interface is the conceptual model. Someone designed an interface and that interface is communicating to you the conceptual model of the product.
Why care about this mental model/conceptual model idea? –Here’s why you should care: If there is a mismatch, between the person’s mental model and the product’s conceptual model, then the product or website will be hard to learn, hard to use, or not accepted. How do mismatches occur? Here are some examples:
- The designers thought they knew who would be using the interface and how much experience they had with interfaces like this, and they designed according to those assumptions without testing them, and it turns out their assumptions were wrong.
- The audience or the product or website is varied. The designers designed for one “persona” or type of audience, and the mental model and conceptual model match for that group, but not for others.
- There are no real designers. The conceptual model wasn’t really designed at all, It’s just a reflection of the underlying hardware or software or database. So the only people whose mental model it fits are the programmers. If the audience is not the programmers then you are in trouble.
A different use of the term – By the way, the way I’m using the term mental model is, I believe, the most common definition, but it does not fit with at least one of the new definitions I’ve been reading and hearing about lately. Indi Young has written a book called Mental Models, and she’s using the term in a different way. She diagrams the behavior of a particular audience doing a series of tasks, including their goals and motivations. Then underneath that she describes what the “system” or product will do, or be like, in order to match the task. This entire structure she calls a “mental model.” Her methodology and its output look useful, but it doesn’t match the definition of mental models that I’m using here.
The Best Designers – a) understand the mental models of the intended audience (with task analysis, observations, interviews, etc), and b) design a conceptual model to fit the audience’s mental model, or a design a new one and know how to get us to switch from old to new.
- People always have a mental model, and it often doesn’t match what the conceptual model that someone designed (or forgot to design!).
- The secret to designing an intuitive and delightful product experience is making sure that the conceptual model of the product matches, as much as possible, the mental models of your audience.
- If you have a brand new product that you know will not match anyone’s mental model then you will have to provide training to prepare the person to create a new mental model.
- If you are struggling to learn how to use a new website, software or device, it might be because you are holding on to an old mental model that doesn’t work anymore. Try letting it go and looking at the product without so many assumptions about how it works.
People See Cues About How To Use An Object
You’ve probably had the experience of encountering a door handle that doesn’t work the way it should – for example, it has a handle that looks like you should pull, but in fact you need to push. In the “real” world, objects communicate to you about how you can, and should, interact with them. For example, by their size and shape, some door knobs invite you to grab and turn them; other door knobs invite you to grab and pull; the curved handle on a coffee mug tells you to curl a few fingers through it and lift it up. A pair of scissors invites you to put fingers through the circles and move your thumb up and down to open and close. Psychologists call these cues “affordances”.
When the cues go wrong – If an item is missing cues, or gives you incorrect cues, you get annoyed and frustrated. If the cues inherent in the object itself aren’t enough to convey its use, then we resort to putting labels on to fix the cue mismatch, as in the door handle above.
The equivalent of door handles online -- Have you ever thought about what makes people want to click on a button on a computer screen? If you use certain cues in the shadow of a button it looks like it can be pushed in, the way a button on an actual device, like a remote control, can be pushed.
Websites are losing affordance cues – Have you noticed that we are starting to lose affordance cues? When graphical user interfaces first came out, almost all the buttons had these shading cues. They were built into the button widgets that came with the Windows or Mac styles. When everything moved to the web there weren’t required interface widgets. Everyone could create their own buttons. Many buttons don’t have the cues anymore.
The Average Reading Level In the USA Is Grade 8
Dan Frommer, Business Insider
If you are a biologist, then the paragraph below might make sense to you:
“The regulation of the TCA cycle is largely determined by substrate availability and product inhibition. NADH, a product of all of the deydrogenases in the TCA cycle, with the exception of succinate dehydrogenase, inhibits pyruvate dehydrogenase, isocitrate dehydrogenase, a-ketoglutarate dehydrogenase, while succinyl-CoA inhibits succinyl-CoA synthetase and citrate syntase.”
But if you are not a biologist, it might take you a long time to understand what that paragraph says. You can technically read the paragraph, but that doesn’t mean you understand it. In order to understand information you need one or both of the following:
You will understand new information more easily if there is already a framework of knowledge to fit it into.
The information needs to be at the appropriate reading level.
The Flesch-Kincaid Reading Score – The most common formula for calculating the readability of a particular passage of text is the Flesch-Kincaid method. The method gives you a Reading Ease formula and also a reading grade level score.
The formula to calculate how readable your text is:
The higher the score the easier the passage is to read. Low scores mean the passage is hard to read.
An online tool for calculating readability – Luckily, you don’t actually have to use the formula. Some word processing software has the Flesch-Kincaid formula built in. Or you can use this online tool:
to calculate the reading level of a particular passage. The calculator gives you a Reading Ease Score as well as a Grade Level Score.
I decided to try out the calculator. First I used a paragraph from the State of Colorado Governor’s website:
This web page had a reading level of Grade 12 and a reading ease score of 40. Americans average a reading level of Grade 8, so 12 is harder than the average American can read. For the reading ease score, higher is better. Comic books are at 90, and legal documents are often 10 and under.
Next I tried out the calculator on the State of Wyoming Governor’s home page. Not much difference – a Grade level of 11 and a Reading Ease score of 42.
Feeling quite smug, I decided I would run one of my blog posts through the calculator.
Uh oh! Reading Grade level of 15 and Reading Ease score of 55?! The Reading Ease is not too bad, but Grade level 15 is a bit high. Well, I knew my readers were smart!
What do you think? Do you ever test the readability level of what you write online?
For those of you who like to read the research:
Stedman, L. and Kaestle, C. (1991) Literacy and reading performance in the United States from 1880 to present. In Kaestle, C. (ed.) Literacy in the United States: Readers and Readings Since 1880. Yale University Press, New Haven, pp. 75–128.
Your Brain Is Just As Busy When You Sleep As When You're Awake
RebeccaPollard via Flickr
Why do people sleep? — Well, not just people, but all kinds of animals sleep. When you think about it, it’s actually quite a strange idea that for 1/4 to 1/3 of each day we go unconscious and are oblivious to the world around us. Scientists for years have wondered and studied what goes on when we sleep and why we do it.
Some of the best research happens through serendipity — Matthew Wilson was studying brain activity in rats as they run mazes. One day he accidentally left the rats hooked up to the equipment he used to record their brain activity. The rats eventually fell asleep, and to Wilson’s surprise, he found that the brain activity while they were asleep was almost the same as the brain activity when the rats were running the maze.
Learning and consolidating – Wilson started a series of experiments to study this more. And through his experiments he has come up with a theory, not just about rats, but about people too: When you sleep and when you dream you are reworking, or consolidating, your experiences from the day. Specifically you are consolidating new memories and making new associations from the information you processed during the day. Your brain is deciding what to remember and what to let go of, or forget.
Sleep don’t cram – Of course we’ve always heard the advice to “get a good night’s sleep” before a big event, or exam. It turns out that that advice was solid. If you want to remember what you have learned the best thing to do is to go to sleep after you learn and before you need to remember it.
And if you like to read research:
Ji D, Wilson MA (2007). ”Coordinated memory replay in the visual cortex and hippocampus during sleep.” Nature Neuroscience 10: 100-7.
People Process Information Best In Story Form
One day, many years ago, when I was early in my career, I found myself in front of a classroom full of people who did not want to be there. Their boss had told them they had to attend the class I was giving. I knew that many, even most, of them thought the class was a waste of their time, and knowing that was making me nervous. I decided to be brave and forge ahead. Certainly my great content would grab their attention, right?
I took a deep breath, smiled, and with a strong voice, I started the session with a big “Hello Everyone. I’m certainly glad to be here.” More than half the class weren’t even looking at me. They were reading their emails and writing out to do lists. One guy had the morning newspaper open and was reading that. It was one of those moments where seconds seem like hours. I thought to myself in panic, What am I going to do?
Then I had an idea. “Let me tell you a story”, I said. At the word “story” everyone’s head jerked up and all eyes were on me. I knew I only had a few seconds to start a story that would hold their attention. “It was 1988 and a team of Navy officers on the USS Vincennes in the Persian Gulf, were staring at a computer screen. Something had just appeared on the radar in protected air space. They had orders to shoot down any hostile aircraft. Was this a hostile aircraft? Was it a military plane? Was it a commercial airliner? They had 2 minutes to decide what to do.”
I had them! Everyone was interested and riveted. I finished the story, which nicely made my point about why it’s important to design usable computer interfaces, and we were off to a great start. The rest of the day flew by, everyone was interested and engaged, and I got some of my best teacher evaluations ever. Now I make sure to use that magic phrase, “Let me tell you a story” at least once in every talk I give, or class I teach.
Stories are very powerful — They grab and hold attention. But they do more than that. They also help people process information and they imply causation.
Tried and true story formats — Aristotle identified the basic structure of stories, and many people have expounded on his ideas since. One model is the basic three act structure: Beginning, Middle and the End. This may not sound very unusual, but when Aristotle came up with it over 2000 years ago it was probably pretty radical.
In the Beginning you introduce your audience to the setting, the characters and the situation or conflict. In the story above I introduced you to the setting (I had to give a class), the characters (me and students), and the conflict (the students don’t want to be there.
My story was very short, so the Middle part was short too. In the middle part of a story, there are typically obstacles and conflicts that the main character has to triumph over. These are usually somewhat resolved, but not completely resolved. In my story above the main character tried her usual opening and it failed Then she started to panic.
In the End of the story the obstacles come to a peak and then are resolved. In my story above I thought of what to do (tell a story to the class), which I did, and which succeeded.
This is just a basic outline. There are many variations and plots that can be added and woven in.
Classic stories — There are many stories that appear over and over in literature and in movies. Here are some of the popular themes that have been identified:
The Great Journey
Coming of Age
The Epic Battle
The Fall From Grace
Stories can be used to imply causation — Stories imply causation. Because stories usually involve some form of chronological narrative (first this happens, next this happens), they can imply causation even if it is not there. People are quick to assign causality. The human brain is always looking for causation. Stories make it even easier to make this causal leap. (Chabris and Simon, 2010)
Stories are important in all communications – Sometimes I hear people say, “Stories are fine for some communications, but not the one I’m working on now. I’m designing the website for the Annual Report of the company. Stories aren’t appropriate there; it’s just financial information.” Not true. There are always appropriate stories you can use any time you are trying to communicate.
How do you use stories in your communication? How could you use them more effectively?
For reading about how stories imply causation, see the book, The Invisible Gorilla, by Chabris and Simon, 2010. For a whole chapter on why stories are important in communication, and the research on this topic, see my book: Neuro Web Design: What makes them click?
There Are 4 Types Of Creativity
By Chuck “Caveman” Coker on flickr
Have you heard someone say, “Oh, John – he’s so creative! I wish I was creative like that.” It makes it sound as if creativity is a natural skill or talent, like the ability to sing or paint. Other times people say “I’m going to a seminar to learn how to be more creative.” That makes it sound as if creativity is a skill that anyone can learn. So, which is it? Well, kind of both and kind of neither.
Four Types of Creativity – Arne Dietrich (2004) identifies 4 different types of creativity with corresponding different brain activities. Think of it like a matrix:
Creativity can be either emotionally or cognitively based, and it can also be spontaneous or deliberate. That gives you the four quadrants.
#1: Thomas Edison – Deliberate and cognitive creativity is the kind of creativity that comes from sustained work in a discipline. For example, Thomas Edison, the inventor of the electric light bulb, was a deliberate and cognitive creator. He ran experiment after experiment before he would come up with an invention. In addition to the light bulb, Thomas Edison also invented the phonograph, and the motion picture camera. One of his famous quotes is:
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Deliberate and cognitive creativity comes from the pre-frontal cortex (PFC) in your brain. The PFC allows you to do 2 things: 1) pay focused attention and 2) make connections among information that you have stored in other parts of your brain. In order for deliberate, cognitive creativity to occur, you need to already have a body of knowledge about one or more particular topics. When you are being deliberatively and cognitively creative you are putting together existing information in new and novel ways.
#2: Personal breakthrough “a-ha” moments – If you’ve ever had a personal crisis (relationship break-up, got fired, gone through a bankruptcy), and then had a flash of insight about yourself and what chain of bad decisions you might have made that contributed to the crisis, then you may have experienced deliberate, emotional creativity. This type of creativity also involves the PFC. That is the deliberate part. But instead of focusing attention on a particular area of knowledge or expertise, people who are engaging in deliberate, emotional creativity have a-ha moments having to do with feelings and emotions. The cingulate cortex is the part of the brain that processes complex feelings that are related to how you interact with others, and your place in the world. And the cingulated cortex is connected to the PFC. These two brain areas are active with this type of creativity.
#3 Isaac Newton “Eureka” moments – Have you ever been working on a problem or idea that you can’t seem to solve. Maybe you have been trying to figure out how to staff a project at work, and you just don’t see how you can free up the right people to do the project. Then you go to lunch, and on your way back you get a flash of insight about how to staff the project. This is an example of spontaneous and cognitive creativity.
Spontaneous and cognitive creativity involves the basal ganglia of the brain. This is where dopamine is stored, and it is a part of the brain that operates outside of your conscious awareness. During spontaneous, cognitive creativity, the conscious brain stops working on the problem, and this gives the unconscious part of the brain a chance to work on it instead. If a problem requires “out of the box” thinking then you need to remove it temporarily from conscious awareness. By doing a different, unrelated activity, the PFC is able to connect information in new ways via your unconscious mental processing. The story about Isaac Newton thinking of gravity while watching a falling apple is an example of spontaneous and cognitive creativity. Notice that this type of creativity does need an existing body of knowledge. That is the cognitive part.
#4: “Epiphanies” — Spontaneous and emotional creativity comes from the amygdala. The amygdala is where basic emotions are processed. When the conscious brain and the PFC are resting, then it is possible for spontaneous ideas and creations to emerge. This is the kind of creativity that you think of when you think about great artists and musicians. Often these kind of spontaneous and emotional creative moments are quite powerful, such as an epiphany, or a religious experience. There is not specific knowledge necessary (it’s not cognitive) for this type of creativity, but there is often skill (writing, artistic, musical) needed to create something from the spontaneous and emotional creative idea.
- Deliberate and cognitive creativity requires a high degree of knowledge and lots of time
- Deliberate and emotional creativity requires quiet time
- Spontaneous and cognitive creativity requires stopping work on the problem and getting away
- Spontaneous and emotional creativity probably can’t be designed for
People See What They Expect To See
During December of 2009, Farid Seif, a businessman from Houston, Texas, boarded a flight in Houston with a loaded handgun in his laptop case. He made it through security without a problem. Farid is not a terrorist. The gun is legal in Texas; he forgot to take it out of his laptop case before his travel. Farid realized the mistake when he got to his destination at the end of the trip.
Airport security at the Houston airport did not detect the gun. It would have been easily seen by a security screener through the scanner at the airport, but no one noticed it.
Homeland Security in the US routinely tests the ability to pass security screening with guns, bomb parts, and other forbidden materials, by sending people through undercover with material. The US government hasn’t released the figures officially, but the estimate is that 70% of these tests fail, meaning most of the time the undercover people are able to get through security, like Farid Seif, with objects that are supposed to be spotted.
People get used to the frequency of an event – Why do the security personnel notice the bottle of shampoo that is too large, but miss a loaded handgun? Research on attention gives a hint on why this might happen. It has to do with the expectation of how frequently an event does or does not happen.
They expect the shampoo — The security personnel miss the loaded handgun and bomb parts at least in part because they don’t encounter them frequently. The security person is working for hours at a time, watching people, and looking at the scanner screen. An expectation develops about how frequently certain violations occur. For example, he or she probably encounters too large containers of shampoo, or nail scissors fairly often, and so expects to see those, and then notices them when they appear. On the other hand, he or she probably does not encounter loaded handguns or bomb parts very often. Bellenkes (1997) conducted research these frequency expectations, and found that people create a mental model about how frequently an event is likely to occur. Unconsciously, that expectation affects how much they look for an event to occur, which affects how much attention they pay to looking for the event.
You can watch an ABC news clip on the Farid Seif incident here.
And for those of you who like to read the research: Bellenkes, A. H., Wickens, C. D., & Kramer, A. F. (1997). Visual scanning and pilot expertise: the role of attentional flexibility and mental model development. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, 68(7), 569-579.
No Two People Perceive Time In The Same Way
Muffet via Flickr
Has this ever happened to you? You are traveling 2 hours to visit friends. It’s two hours to get there and 2 hours to get back, but the trip there feels much longer.
It’s about the mental processing — In his interesting book, The Time Paradox, Philip Zimbardo discusses how our experience of time is relative, not absolute. There are time illusions, just like there are visual illusions. The more mental processing you do, the more time you think has elapsed. If people have to stop and think at each step of a task, they will feel that the task is taking too long. The mental processing makes the amount of time seem longer.
It’s about expectations — The perception of time and your reaction to it, is also greatly influenced by predictability and expectations. Let’s say you are editing video on your computer. You’ve just clicked the button to produce the video file from your edits. Will you be frustrated by how long it takes to produce the video? If you do this task often, and it normally takes 3 minutes, then 3 minutes will not seem like a long time. If there is an in-progress indicator, for example a bar that is moving, or a message that says “2 minutes 48 seconds left to completion”, then you know what to expect. You’ll go pour yourself a cup of coffee and come back. But if it sometimes takes 30 seconds and sometimes takes 5 minutes, and you don’t which one it is going to be this time, then you will be very frustrated if it takes 3 minutes. Three minutes will seem much longer than it usually does.
Time expectations change – Ten years ago if it took 20 seconds for a website to load you didn’t think much of it. But these days if it takes more than 3 seconds you get impatient. There’s one website I go to regularly that takes 12 seconds to load. It seems like an eternity.
- Always provide in progress indicators so people know how much time something is going to take.
- If possible, make the amount of time it takes to do a task or bring up information regular, so people can adjust their expectations accordingly.
- If you want to make a process seem shorter, then break it up into steps and have people think less. It’s mental processing that makes something seem to take a long time.
Remembering Is One Of The Most Taxing Processes For The Brain
You are paying bills at your online banking website. You have to think about what bills need to be paid when, look up your balance, decide how much to pay on your credit cards, and push the right buttons to get the payments processed. As you do this task, you are thinking and remembering (cognitive), looking at the screen (visual), and pressing buttons, typing, and moving the mouse (motor).
In human factors terminology these are called “loads”. The theory is that there are basically three different kinds of demands or loads that you can make on a person: Cognitive (thinking and remembering), Visual, and Motor.
Not all the loads are equal — Each of the loads uses up different amounts of mental resources. You use up more resources when you ask people to look at something or find something on a screen (visual) than when you ask them to press a button or move a mouse (motor). You use up more resources by asking people to think or remember or do a mental calculation (Cognitive), than when you ask them to look at something on a screen (Visual). So from a human factors point of view, the order of the loads from most “expensive” to least is:
- Cognitive (most “expensive”)
- Motor (least “expensive”)
Reduce loads to make it easier — Most of the time when considering loads in design we are looking to reduce the loads (especially cognitive and visual) to make the product easier to use.
Increase loads to grab attention — But sometimes you want to increase the load. For example, to grab someone’s attention you might put more visual information (pictures, animation, a video) and thereby increase the visual load of the product.
Increase loads = gaming — The best example of purposely increasing loads is gaming. A game is an interface where one or two or three of the loads has been intentionally increased in order to provide challenge. Some games have high cognitive loads, some have high visual loads, some have high motor loads, and some have purposely increased more than one load.
Have you evaluated a website or product from this point of view? Have you designed a product or website from this point of view?
People Learn Best By Example
Let’s say you are a marketing person and you are going to send out an email to your customers about a new product offering. And let’s assume that you use a web application like MailChimp to create and distribute your emails. Here are some directions from the MailChimp web site on how to build an email campaign: (Hint: You don’t have to read it word for word… read a few of the steps and then skim to the end).
1. From the Dashboard or the Campaign Tab click on the big ol’ “Create Campaign” button and select the type of campaign you’d like to create (start with regular ol’ campaign.).
2. On Step 1 of the Campaign Builder, select the list you’d like to send to. Once you’ve selected the list use the “next” option to move forward, or click “send to entire list”.
3. On Step 2 of the Campaign Builder, you will have the options to name your campaign, set up a subject line, from name reply-to email and personalize your “To:” field with *|MERGETAGS|*. You will also find your options for tracking, authentication, analytics tracking and social sharing. (Use the “next” and “back” options to navigate through the steps (not your browser’s back button)).
4. Select a Template for your email by clicking on “pre-designed”, “autoconnect”, “premium”, or “start from scratch”, etc (to get a basic template layout that you can fully customize) under the templates heading. Templates you’ve set up and saved will live under “my templates”. If you’re providing your own code use the “paste/import HTML” or “import from URL” options. If you want to create an editable (or non-editable) Template for your clients, choose “code custom templates”.
5. Once you choose your template you’ll remain on Step 3 of the Campaign Builder. The content editor is where you will edit your styles and content. Click on “show style editor” to bring up the style options.
6. With the Style Editor visible and you’ll have options to edit the styles for each section. Here the “Body” tab is selected and the “title style” subheading has been clicked. This will allow you to set the line height, font size and more for this section.
7. Click anywhere inside the dotted red borders to bring up the content editor box
8. After you click save wait for your content to refresh then click on the “next” option. Our plain text generator will automagically create the plain text version from your HTML version. Just look this version over to make sure it looks the way you like and click “next” to move to the last step of the Campaign Builder.
9. Step 5 of the Campaign Builder is a “pre-delivery checklist”. If we see anything missing on your campaign you’ll be alerted in red on this screen. Click on “edit” to be taken directly back to any area that needs attention.
You can preview the campaign once more by clicking on the “pop up preview” button.
Then we recommend sending tests to several email addresses to see how the campaign looks in your recipient’s inboxes. If everything looks good, you can schedule or send out your campaign.
Luckily that’s not really how MailChimp explains this – The above is long and hard to understand and learn from, right? This is actually NOT how the information is presented at MailChimp. The text is the same, but it is combined with screen shots to show an example of what the text is talking about.
So here is what part of the page really looks like, with text and picture together.
The power of the example – People learn and understand best by looking at and following examples.
Video too — Screen shots or pictures are not the only way to provide examples. At the MailChimp site there are also links to videos that walk you through the same steps. Videos are some of the most effective ways to give examples online. Videos combine movement, sound and vision, and don’t require reading. So they are attention-getting and engaging.
What are some of the ways you show people rather than just tell people how to do something?
People Love To Categorize
bellissima_italia via Flickr
If you are between the ages of 5 and 60 and grew up with a television in the US, you probably will know what I mean if I say, “One of these things is not like the other.” This was (is) a favorite snippet from the popular children’s show Sesame Street. If you don’t know what I am talking about, you can view an example at the Sesame Street website. The Sesame Street lessons teach young children how to notice differences, and how to to categorize.
Categorizing develops around age 7 --Interestingly, it’s probably unnecessary, and perhaps even ineffective, to try and teach young children how to create categories for two reasons:
- People naturally create categories. Just like learning a native language happens naturally, so does learning to categorize the world around us.
- Categorizing doesn’t emerge as a skill until about age 7. Younger than 7, and certainly younger than 5, thinking about categories just doesn’t make sense to children. After the age of 7, however, people become fascinated with categorizing information.
Self-organized vs. other-organized – While working on my master’s thesis at Pennsylvania State University, I conducted research on whether people would remember information better if it was organized by other people, or whether they would remember it better if they organized it themselves. What I found was that it didn’t really matter. What mattered most was how well it was organized. The more organized the information the better people remembered it. Some people (those who measured high on “locus of control” measures) preferred to organize the information in their own way, but self vs. other organization schemes did not really matter as long as the information was well organized.
What do you think? Are you one of the people who prefer to organize information into your own categories? Do you appreciate it when a website is well-organized? If you are a website designer, do you spend enough time figuring out how to best organize the information? Do you use techniques like card sorting to work through different organization strategies with your target audience?
Group Decision-Making Is Faulty
Guzman Lozano via Flickr
If your work life is anything like mine, your day is filled with groups meeting by phone or in person and making decisions. Unfortunately research shows that group decision-making has some serious flaws.
The Danger of Group-Think — Andreas Mojzisch and Stefan Schulz-Hardt (2010) presented people with information on prospective job candidates. People who received information on the group’s preferences before reviewing the candidate information, did not review the candidate information fully, and therefore did not make the best decisions. In a memory test they did not remember the most relevant information. The researchers concluded that when a group of people starts a discussion by sharing their initial preferences, they spend less time and less attention on the information that is available outside of the group’s preferences. And they therefore make a less than optimal decision.
The majority start with group discussions — The estimate is that 90% of group discussions start with group members talking about their initial impressions. According to the research this is a poor idea.
But two people can be better than one — The wide receiver catches the football right at the corner of the end-zone. Is it a touchdown or not? Two referees saw the play from two different angles. Are they more likely to make a correct decision if they talk together or if they think and decide individually? Research by Bahador Bahrami shows that “two heads are better than one” IF
a) they talk together, and
b) they are both competent in their knowledge and skills.
Bahrami (2010) found that pairs do better than individuals at making decisions as long as they freely discuss their disagreements, not only about what they saw, but also about how confident they are about what they saw. If they aren’t allowed to freely discuss, and they just give their decision, then the pair does not make better decisions than just an individual would.
What do you think? Do we have too many meetings and too many group decisions? Should we try to work in pairs more instead of groups?
And for those who like to read the research:
Bahrami, B., Olsen, K., Latham, P. E., Roepstorff, A., Rees, G., & Frith, C. D. (2010). Optimally interacting minds. Science 329(5995), 1081-1085 doi:10.1126/science.1185718.
Mojzisch, A., & Schulz-Hardt, S. (2010). Knowing others’ preferences degrades the quality of group decisions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98(5), 794-808.
Groups Are Swayed By A Dominant Personality
In the last blog post I talked about how groups end up making faulty decisions. How many times have you been part of a group discussion and decision-making process and there is one person who is dominating the conversation and the decision. Just because decisions are made in a group setting doesn’t mean that the entire group really made the decision. Many people give up in the presence of one or more dominant group members, and may not speak up at all.
Why does the leader become the leader? — Anderson and Kilduff (2009) researched group decision-making. They formed groups of four students each and had them solve math problems from the GMAT (a standardized test for admission to graduate business school programs).
Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/100-things-you-should-know-about-people-part-2?op=1#ixzz3JpkWI5jg