53 Mind-Blowing, Psychology-Proven Facts You Should Know About Yourself

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Photo: 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:

Aoccdrnig to reserach at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, the oredr of lteetrs in a wrod is nto vrey iprmoetnt.

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 Gets

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 recognising patterns -- recognising 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 recognise objects by simple shapes -- But research now points to the idea that we recognise certain basic shapes in what we are looking at, and we use these basic shapes, called geons, to recognise objects. Irving Biederman came up with the idea of geons in 1985. It's thought that there are 24 basic shapes that people recognise, 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 recognise an object quickly, use a simple geometric drawing of the object. This will make it easier to recognise the underlying geons, and thus make the object easier and faster to recognise.

What do you think? Have you tried using simple shapes to create your drawings and icons for people to recognise?

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 per cent Of Men And .5% Of Women Are Colorblind

You React To colours Based On Your Culture

You Know How To Do Things You've Never Done Before

People See Cues About How To Use An Object

The Average Reading Level In the USA Is Grade 8

Your Brain Is Just As Busy When You Sleep As When You're Awake

People Process Information Best In Story Form

There Are 4 Types Of Creativity

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 realised 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

Remembering Is One Of The Most Taxing Processes For The Brain

People Learn Best By Example

People Love To Categorize

Group Decision-Making Is Faulty

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 maths problems from the GMAT (a standardized test for admission to graduate business school programs).

Everyone agrees who the leader is -- During the problem solving session the researchers videotaped the group conversations and reviewed them later to decide who was the leader of each group. They had multiple sets of observers view the videos to see if there was consensus about who the leaders were. They also asked the people in the groups who they thought was the leader of their group. Everyone agreed on who the leader was in each group. Before the groups started, everyone filled out a questionnaire to measure level of dominance. As you might imagine, the leaders had all scored high on the dominance measure. But that still doesn't say how they became leaders. Were they the people with the best maths SAT scores? (No). Did they bully everyone else into letting them be the leader? (No).

The leaders speak first -- For 94% of the problems the group's final answer was the first answer that was proposed, and the people with the dominant personalities were the ones that spoke up first.

The dangers of focus groups -- This is one reason why I am sceptical about focus groups for user research (as opposed to one-on-one interviews or user testing).

What do you think? Do you use focus groups?

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

Anderson, Cameron & Kilduff, G. (2009). Why do dominant personalities attain influence in face-to-face groups? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96(2), 491-503.

Only Seven Emotions Are Universal

If You Never Frown, You Won't Feel Sad

Personal Stories Are More Persuasive Than Scientific Data

Smells Evoke Emotions and Memories

Do you have a type of food that makes you feel a certain way? When you smell it you have an emotional reaction? For me it is kasha. Kasha is a form of buckwheat. You cook the buckwheat kernals in oil and then boil them (with salt, pepper, onion, and garlic). I've never met very many people that have actually eaten kasha, much less know what kasha is.

When I smell kasha cooking I get a big smile on my face and I feel happy. This is because my mum used to cook kasha. I have a positive emotional memory of my mum when I smell kasha cooking.

A special path for smells -- The thalamus is a part of the brain that is between the cerebral cortex and the midbrain. One of the functions of the thalamus is to process sensory information and send it to the appropriate part of the cortex. For example, visual information comes from the retina, goes to the thalamus and then gets routed to the primary visual cortex. All of the senses send their data to the thalamus before the information goes anywhere else, with the exception of smell. The olfactory system does not go through the thalamus. When you smell something, that sensory data goes right to your amygdala. The amygdala is where emotional information is processed. This is why people react emotionally to smells: You smell a flower and it makes you happy. You smell rotten meat and it makes you feel disgusted. The amygdala is right next to the memory centres of the brain. This is also why you can smell something and have memories invoked.

Smells from a web site? -- For a reasonable amount of money you can now buy an olfactory machine that hooks up to your PC, and software that emits many different scents (forest, ocean, turkey, chocolate, etc). It's the ScentScape from ScentSciences (www.scentsciences.com)

What do you think? Is there a smell in your favourite websites future?

Your Brain Craves Surprises

People Are Happier Busy And With A Challenge

Consider this scenario: You just landed at an airport and now you have to walk to the baggage claim to pick up your luggage. It takes you 12 minutes to walk there. When you arrive your luggage is coming onto the carousel. How impatient do you feel?

Contrast that with this scenario: You just landed at an airport, and the walk to the luggage carousel takes 2 minutes. But then you stand around waiting 10 minutes for your luggage to appear. How impatient do you feel now? In both cases you it took you 12 minutes to pick up your luggage, but chances are you are much more impatient, and much more unhappy in the second scenario where you have to stand around and wait.

The paradox -- Research by Christopher Hsee and colleagues shows that you are happier when you are busy. This is somewhat of a paradox. In another post I write about the research that shows that people are actually lazy. Unless people have a reason for being active, they choose to do nothing, thereby conserving energy. But doing nothing makes people impatient and unhappy.

We love a challenge -- Hsee asked participants to study a bracelet. Then he gave them the option of either spending fifteen minutes waiting with nothing to do (they thought they were waiting for the next part of the experiment), or spending the same time taking the bracelet apart and re-building it while waiting. Some of the participants were given the option of rebuilding it into its original configuration, and others were given the option to re-assemble the bracelet into a different design.

Happier when busy -- Participants who had the option of re-building the bracelet as it was before, preferred to just sit idly. But the participants who were told they could re-assemble the bracelet into a new design, preferred to work on the bracelet rather than sit idle. Those who spent the fifteen minutes busy with the bracelet, reported feeling happier than those who sat idle.

What do you think? Why are people unhappy when they are lazy? Why do they tend to want to be lazy?

And if you like to read the research:

Hsee, C. K., Yang, X., & Wang, L. (2010). Idleness aversion and the need for justified busyness. Psychological Science. 21(7), 926--930.

People Like Pastoral Scenes

People Who Trust Others Are Happier

If you want to know who is happiest, then figure out who feels the most trust.

Which country has the happiest people? -- Eric Weiner traveled all over the world in search of answers to the questions: Which countries have the happiest people and why? His answers surprised him and they surprised me too. Based on research, Iceland comes out towards the top of the pile, and Saudi Arabia towards the bottom.

Happiness factors -- Here is some of what he discovered and writes about:

Extroverts are happier than introverts.

Optimists are happier than pessimists.

Married people are happier than singles, but people with children are the same as childless couples.

Republicans are happier than democrats.

People who go to church are happier than those who don't.

People with college degrees are happier than those without, but people with advanced degrees are less happy.

People with an active sex life are happier than those without.

Women and men are equally happy, but women have a wider emotional range.

Having an affair will make you happy, but not if your spouse finds out and leaves you.

People are least happy when they are commuting to work.

Busy people are happier than those with too little to do.

Trust is the best predictor -- But the best predictor of happiness is trust. If people trust the people around them, friends, and family, and if they trust their government, then they will score highest on the happiness surveys.

What do you think? Why is trust such a big predictor?

The Look Of A Website Is More Important Than Its Content

There isn't a lot of actual research on trust and website design. There are a lot of opinions, but not necessarily much real data. Research by Elizabeth Sillence and team (2004) provides some solid data, at least in regard to health websites. Sillence researched how people decide whether and which health websites to trust. Participants in the study were all patients with hypertension. (In previous research Sillence used the topic of menopause, and found similar results). In this study participants used websites to look for information about hypertension.

Design is the first filter -- When participants in the study rejected a health website as not being trustworthy, 83% of their comments were related to design factors, such as an unfavorable first impression of the look and feel, poor navigation, colour, text size and the name of the website.

Content is the second filter -- Once the first filter was applied, if the website hadn't been rejected, then participants mentioned content rather than design factors. 74% of the participants' comments were about content being important in deciding whether they found a site trustworthy (after the initial design impression). For example, if the sites were owned by well known and respected organisations, advice written by medical experts, and sites that were specific to them and that they felt were written for people like themselves.

A One-Two Punch -- People use both design factors and content in deciding whether to trust a website, but the design impression comes first. If the design is not professional and deemed trustworthy they'll never see the content.

What do you think? Do you find that you do that initial first impression based on design?

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

Sillence, Elizabeth, Briggs, P. Fishwick, L., & Harris, P. (2004). Trust and mistrust of online health sites. CHI'04 Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference On Human Factors In Computer Systems. New York: ACM.

Listening To Music Releases Dopamine In The Brain

The More Difficult Something Is To Attain, The More People Like It

You've heard about fraternities that have difficult initiation rituals to get in. The idea is that if an organisation is hard to get into, then the people in it like it even more than if entry was not so difficult.

More difficult = more like -- The first research on this initiation effect was done by Elliott Aronson at Stanford University in 1959. Aronson set up three initiation scenarios (severe, medium and mild, although the severe was not really that severe) and randomly assigned people to the conditions. He did indeed find that the more difficult the initiation, the more people liked the group.

Cognitive dissonance theory -- Leon Festinger was the social psychologist who developed the idea of cognitive dissonance theory, and Aronson uses the theory to explain why people like groups that they had to endure hardship to join. People go through this painful experience only to find themselves part of a group that is not all that exciting or interesting. But that sets up a conflict (dissonance) in their thought process -- if it's boring and uninteresting, why did I submit myself to pain and hardship? In order to reduce the dissonance then, you therefore decide that the group is really important and worthwhile. Then it makes sense that you were willing to go through all of that pain.

Scarcity and exclusivity -- In addition to the theory of cognitive dissonance to explain this phenomenon, I also think scarcity comes into play. If it's difficult to join the group then not very many people can do it. I might not be able to make it in, then I would lose out. So if I went through a lot of pain it must be good.

What do you think? Do you find you like things better if they are difficult? Does this mean we should design products that are hard to use so that people will decide in the end it was worth it? (I hope not!)

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

Aronson, Elliot, & Mills, J. (1959). The Effect of Severity of Initiation On Liking For A Group. U.S. Army Leadership Human Research Unit.

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

Anticipation Trumps The Actual Experience

Not All Mistakes Are Bad

You buy a new digital camera and you start learning how to use it. Chances are that in the first few days of using it you will make a lot of mistakes --press the wrong buttons, forget where things are in the menus, and so on. We tend to think that mistakes are bad and should be avoided. Not necessarily, says Van Der Linden who conducted research on exploration strategies that people use when learning how to use computers and electronic devices.

Consequences are not always negative -- Van Der Linden's idea is that errors have consequences, but, contrary to what most people think, not all of the consequences are negative. Although it's possible, and even likely, that making an error has a negative consequence, it's also likely that the error has a positive or a neutral outcome.

Positive consequences -- Errors with a positive consequence are actions that do not give the desired result, but provide the user with information that helps them achieve their overall goal. For example, let's say that you have designed a new tablet device to compete with the iPad. You've got an early prototype of the device, and you put it in the hands of potential buyers to see how usable the device is. The person moves the slider bar that he thinks is the volume control, but instead the screen gets brighter. He's chosen the brightness slider, rather than the volume slider. It's a mistake, but now he knows how to make the screen brighter. If that's a feature that he also needs to learn in order to accomplish the task of watching a video (and assuming he does eventually find the volume slider), then we could say that the error had a positive consequence.

Negative consequences -- Errors with a negative consequence are those that result in a dead end, undo a positive consequence, send people back to a starting point, or result in action that cannot be reversed. For example, your potential customer is now trying to move a file from one folder to another, but he misunderstands the meaning of the button choices and he deletes the file instead. That's an error that has negative consequences.

Neutral consequences -- Errors with a neutral consequence are errors that don't affect task completion at all. For example, the potential buyer tries to select a menu option that is not available. He's made an error, but it the consequence isn't positive or negative -- it's neutral.

What do you think? Is it useful to think about errors this way?

For those of you who like to read the research:

van der Linden, Dimitri, Sonnentag, S. Frese, M. & van Dyck, C. (2001). Exploration strategies, error consequences, and performance when learning a complex computer task. Behaviour and Information Technology, 20, 189-198.

People Use Groupings Of Things To Remember

People of Different Ages Have Different Error Strategies

Let's say you study two people using a smartphone that has an advanced still and video camera. One is 22 years old, and the other is 47 years old. Neither of them has used this smartphone/camera before. You give them a set of tasks to do. Will there be a difference between them? Will they both be able to complete the tasks? Will they make the same mistakes? Neung Kang and Wan Yoon (2008) conducted a research study to look at the types of errors both young and older (not very old, but older) adults make when learning how to use new technologies. In their study they identified and tracked different error strategies:

Systematic exploration -- When people use systematic exploration, this means that when they make a mistake they stop and think about what procedures they are going to use to correct the error. For example, let's say that a user is trying to figure out how to email a picture with the smartphone/camera. She tried one menu and that didn't work, so now she sets out to see what each item in the menu system does for the camera part of the device. She starts at the first item in the first menu and works her way through all the choices in the part of the product controls having to do with the camera. She is systematically exploring.

Trial and error -- In contrast to systematic exploration, trial and error means that the person is randomly trying out different actions, menus, icons and controls

Rigid exploration -- If someone does the same action over and over, even though it does not solve the error, that is called a rigid exploration. For example, the person is trying to send a picture via a text message, presses a button and gets an error. She then chooses the picture again, and presses the button again. She keeps repeating this combination of actions, even though it doesn't work.

Age and Expertise -- Here is what Kang and Yoon found in their study:

There was no difference in completion rates for the tasks on the devices due to age, but the older (40-50 year olds) used different strategies than the younger (in their 20s) adults.

  • Older adults took more steps to get the tasks completed, mainly because they made more errors as they went along, and they tended to use more rigid exploration strategies more than younger adults.
  • Older adults often failed to receive meaningful hints from their actions and therefore made less progress toward the task goal.
  • Older adults showed more motor-control problems.
  • Older adults didn't use their past knowledge as much as younger adults.
  • Older adults had a higher level of uncertainty about whether their actions were correct. They felt more time pressure and less satisfaction.
  • Older adults adopted more trial and error strategies than younger adults, but analysis of the data showed this was not due to age, but due to lack of background and experience with the type of device.

What do you think? What is more important in terms of errors, age or experience with that type of device?

Here's the research:

Kang, Neung E., & Yoon, W.C. (2008). Age- and experience-related user behaviour differences in the use of complicated electronic devices. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies 66, 425--437.

behaviour Can Be Shaped

Unexpected Rewards Are Most Compelling

People Are Motivated By Progress And Mastery

Why do people donate their time and creative thought process to Wikipedia? Or the open source movement? When you stop and think about it you realise that there are many activities that people engage in, even over a long period of time, that require high expertise, and yet are of no monetary or even career building benefit. People like to feel that they are making progress. They like to feel that they are learning and mastering new knowledge and skills.

Small signs of progress can have a large effect -- Because mastery is such a powerful motivator, even small signs of progress can have a large effect in motivating people move forward to the next step in a task. At Linked In, they encourage you to finish filling in information on your profile by showing you how much information you have already answered.

LiveMocha is a website where you can learn languages. They have several forms of mastery and progress built in:

At a glance you can see where you are in the course, where you are in the lesson, and how much progress you have made overall.

They have points that you can earn by completing your training, as well as by helping other people learn a language you already know. The points can be accumulated and redeemed for access to premium learning exercises.

Everytime you sign on to LiveMocha you see a dashboard that shows your progress.

Daniel Pink has a great animated video about motivation and mastery from his book, Drive.

What do you think? Are you motivated by mastery?

People Will Use Shortcuts Only If They Are Easy

Average Time To Form A Habit Is 66 Days

You turn on your computer each morning and do the same activities: First you check your email, then you check Facebook, and go to weather.com to check the weather. (Or whatever your particular pattern is). You do this every day. It's a habit. Why are you motivated to do these same tasks every day? What did it take for these activities to become a habit? What would it take to change the habit to something else?

Cementing a habit -- Philippa Lally (2010) recently studied the how and how long of forming habits. She had people choose an eating, drinking or activity behaviour to carry out every day for 12 weeks. In addition, the participants in the research would go online and complete a self-report habit index (SRHI) each day, to record whether they had carried out the behaviour.

66 Days -- The average amount of time it took for people to form a habit was 66 days, but that number doesn't really tell the story, because there was a wide range. For some people and some behaviours it took 18 days, but depending on the person and the behaviour, it went all the way up to 254 days for the behaviour to become an automatic habit. What she found is that people would initially show an increase in the automaticity of the behaviour, and then they would hit a plateau.

Some behaviours faster than others -- The more complex the behaviour the longer it took for it to become a habit (no surprise there). Participants that chose to create an exercise habit took 1 and a half times longer to make it automatic than those who were building a new habit about eating fruit at lunch.

Miss a day? -- Lally found that if people missed a day here and there, that did not have a significant effect on how long it took to build the habit. But too many missed days, or multiple days in a row, did have an effect, and slowed the creation of the habit.

What's your experience with habits? 66 days or longer?

If you want to read the research:

Lally, Phillippa, van Jaarsveld, H., Potts, H., & Wardle, J. (2010). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40(6), 998-1009.

More People = Less Desire To Compete

Did you take standardized tests to get into college? Like the SAT and ACT? How many people were in the room when you took the test? Does it matter? Research by Stephen Garcia and Avishalom Tor shows that it may matter a lot.

Less people = higher scores -- Garcia and Tor first compared SAT scores for locations that had a lot of people in the room taking the test versus locations that had smaller numbers. They adjusted the scores to control for the educational budget in that region and other factors. Students who took the SAT test in a room with less people scored higher.

You'll try harder if you have a good chance of winning -- Garcia and Tor hypothesized that when there are just a few competitors, you (perhaps unconsciously) feel that you can come out on top, and so you try harder. And, the theory goes, when there are more people, then it is harder to assess where you stand and therefore you are not as motivated to try to come out on top. They called this the N-effect (N standing for number as in formulas).

10 versus 100 competitors -- Garcia and Tor decided to test their theory in the lab. They asked students to complete a short quiz as quickly and accurately as possible. They were told that the top 20% would receive 5 US dollars. Group A was told that they were competing against 10 other students. Group B was told that they were competing against 100 other students. Participants in Group A completed the quiz significantly faster than the participants in Group B. The interesting thing is that there was no one actually in the room with them. They were just told that there were other people taking the test.

What do you think? Are you more motivated if there are just a few people you are competing against?

If you want to read the research:

Garcia, S., & Tor, A. (2009). The N effect: More competitors, less competition. Psychological Science. 20(7), 871-877.

Handwritten Letters Are Most Honest

Speaker and Listener Brains Sync Up During Conversation

When you listen to someone talking your brain starts working in sync with the speaker. Greg Stephens (2010) put participants in his research study in an fMRI machine and had them record or listen to recordings of other people talking. What he found is that as someone is listening to someone else talk, the brains patterns of the two people start to couple, or mirror each other. There is a slight delay, which corresponds to the time it takes for the communication to occur. Several different brain areas were synced. He compared this with having people listen to someone talk in a language they did not understand. In that case the brains do not sync up.

Syncing + anticipation = understanding -- In Stephen's study, the more the brains were synced up the more the listener understood the ideas and message from the speaker. And by watching what parts of the brain were lighting up, Stephens could see that the parts of the brain that have to do with prediction and anticipation were active. The more active they were, the more successful was the communication.

Social parts light up too -- Stephens noted that the parts of the brain that have to do with social interaction were also synced, including areas are known to be involved in processing social information crucial for successful communication, including the capacity to discern the beliefs, desires, and goals of others.

What do you think? Have you been synced with any speakers lately?

Stephens, Greg, Silbert, L., & Hasson, U. (2010). Speaker--listener neural coupling underlies successful communication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, July 27, 2010.

Your Brain Has A Special Response To People You Know

Your Uncle Arden invites you over to watch the World Cup and tells you to bring some friends. When you get there you see that there are several people you know (relatives and friends of relatives), and some you don't know. It's a lively bunch, and over food and the game on TV, lots of topics are covered, including soccer and politics. As you would expect, you have similar opinions on the topics of soccer and politics with some of your friends and relatives, and you disagree with some of them. You actually have more in common, in terms of soccer and politics, with some of the strangers you just met today than you have with some of your friends and relatives. The chart below shows the four possible combinations of people and similarities:

Does your brain react differently to these 4 combinations? -- The questions that Fenna Krienen conducted research on are: Do you make judgments about other people based on how similar they are to you? Or is it more important that they be close to you, either a close friend or a relative? And if there are differences, will they show up on fMRI brain scans? When you think about people that you don't know, but feel similar to, do the same brain regions light up as though you were connected to them through kinship or previous friendship?

Your brain responds to people you know -- Krienen and team found tested these theories. They found that when people answered questions about friends, whether or not they felt they were similar to their friends, the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) was active. The MPFC is the part of the brain that is active in perceiving value and regulating social behaviour. When people thought about others that they don't know, but have common interests with (are similar to), the MPFC was not active.

What do you think? Does your brain respond specially to people you know?

If you want to read the research:

Krienen, Fenna M.,Pei-Chi, Tu, & Buckner, Randy L. (2010). Clan mentality: Evidence that the medial prefrontal cortex responds to close others. The Journal of Neuroscience, 30(41), 13906-13915; doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2180-10.2010.

You Can Tell If A Smile Is Real Or Fake More Accurately With Video

Recognition Is Easier Than Recall

Size Matters When It Comes To Fonts

When it comes to fonts, size matters a lot. The font size needs to be big enough so that people can read it without strain.

Not just old folks -- For older people this is critical. Starting in their 40′s, most people have increasing difficulty reading small fonts. But it's not just older people that need fonts to be bigger. I've conducted many usability tests on web sites and heard people in their late teens and early 20′s make spontaneous comments about the font being too small.

x-height magic -- Some fonts can be the same size as others, but look bigger, due to the x-height. The x-height is literally the height of the small letter x in the font family. Look at the illustration at the top of the post to see how the x-height is measured. Different fonts have different x-heights, and as a result, some fonts look larger than others, even though they are the same font point size.

The same but not -- Some of the newer font families, such as Tahoma and Verdana, have been created with large x-heights so they will be easier to read on a screen. The paragraphs below show different font families that are all the same size. Some look bigger, however, because of the larger x-height.

What do you think? Do you have trouble reading fonts online? What font types and sizes do you use?

There Is A Brain Area Dedicated To Perceiving Faces

You are walking down a busy street in a large city and suddenly you see the face of one of your close relatives. Even if you were not expecting to see this person, and even if there are dozens, or even hundreds of people in your visual field, you will immediately recognise this as your (brother mother, sister, cousin). Not only will you recognise them immediately, you will also have an accompanying emotional response (love, hate, fear etc).

Fusiform face area -- Although the visual cortex is huge and takes up a large amount of brain resources, there is a special part of the brain outside of the visual cortex whose role it is to recognise faces. It's called the fusiform face area, or FFA (Kanwisher, 1997). This special part of the brain is also near the amygdala, which is the emotional centre of the brain. This means that faces grab attention, are recognised quickly, and bypass the usual brain interpreting channels.

What do you think? Do you find you react to faces at websites? Do they grab your attention?

If you like to read the research:

Kanwisher, N., McDermott J., Chun, M. (1997). The fusiform face area: a module in human extrastriate cortex specialised for face perception. Journal of Neuroscience, 17(11), 4302--4311.

Titles Provide Context

Read this paragraph:

First you sort the items into like categories. Using colour for sorting is common, but you can also use other characteristics, such as texture or type of handling needed. Once you have sorted the items, you are ready to use the equipment. You want to process each category from the sorting separately. Place one category in the machine at a time.

What is the paragraph about? It's hard to understand. But what if I give you the same paragraph with a title:

Using Your New Washing Machine

First you sort the items into like categories. Using colour for sorting is common, but you can also use other characteristics, such as texture or type of handling needed. Once you have sorted the items, you are ready to use the equipment. You want to process each category from the sorting separately. Place one category in the machine at a time.

The paragraph is still poorly written, but now at least it is understandable.

Titles and headings are critical. They provide context and cue your brain and memory for what comes after. Whether or not something is well written or poorly written, titles activate the appropriate schema (see the post on schema for more information).

Titles are important for text, but also for field labels on forms. If you want people to understand what to do, use a clear title that makes sense to them.

What do you think? Do you spend enough time crafting titles?

Repetition Physically Changes Your Brain

The Look Of Someone's Eyes Determine Whether We Think That Person Is Alive

Past Experience And Expectations Determine Where People Look In A Situation

Where do people look first on a computer screen? Where do they look next? It depends partially on what they are doing and expecting.

Left to right? -- If people read in languages that move from left to right, then they tend to look at the screen from left to right. If they read from right to left, it is the opposite.

Not the edges -- People tend to ignore the edges of screens. Because people have gotten used to the idea that there are things on computer screens that are not as relevant to the task at hand, such as logos, blank space, and navigation bars, they tend to move towards the centre of the screen and avoid the edges. After the first look at a screen people then move in whatever is their normal reading pattern, in other words left to right/top to bottom in cultures that read that way.

Grabbing attention -- If there is something that grabs attention, for example, a large photo (especially one with someone's face), or movement (animated banner, video) somewhere else on the screen, then you can pull them away from their normal reading path and get them to look elsewhere, at least briefly.

Where to find certain tools and features -- People have also gotten used to the location of certain items on a screen. For example, navigation bars are usually on the left or the top. Logos are at the top left. Search is expected at the top, either in the middle or towards the right. Help links or buttons are usually at the top right.

What do you think? Is it important to design with these conventions in mind? Or do you sometimes break out of the mould?

People Filter Information All The Time

Have you ever met someone that has a long held belief that they just won't change, no matter how much evidence you show them that their belief is not tenable? People seek out and pay attention to information and cues that confirm the beliefs that they have. They don't seek out, in fact they ignore, or even discount, information that doesn't support what they already believe.

Useful strategy or bad idea? -- Filtering is often a useful strategy, since it reduces the amount of information that you have to pay attention to at any one time. But sometimes filtering can lead to bad choices.

Shooting down a commercial jet -- In 1988 the US Navy had a ship in the Persian gulf called the USS Vincennes. One day, while scanning the radar on the screen on the ship, the crew saw aircraft headed their way. They decided early on that the approaching aircraft was not a commercial airliner, but a hostile military plane. They shot down the plane, which did turn out to be a commercial airliner with 290 passengers and crew. Everyone died.

Many factors led to this erroneous conclusion -- The situation was stressful , and the room was too dark. There were many unclear or ambiguous pieces of information that made it hard for the crew to understand what they were looking at on their screen. Most significant, however, in the incident, is what they chose to pay attention to and what they chose to ignore.

The crew filtered -- Several crew members were convinced from the start that it was a hostile military plane, and from that point on they filtered all the information coming in. The crew had rehearsed the a training scenario many times on what to do when there is a hostile military plane in their air space. They ignored evidence that it was, in fact, a commercial plane, paid attention only to the information that led them to think it was a hostile military craft, and then proceeded to carry out the training scenario. All leading them to an incorrect resolution.

What do you think? Are you aware when you are filtering?

Attention Is Selective

In the paragraph below, read only the words that are bold, and ignore all the other text.

Somewhere Among hidden on a the desert island most near the spectacular X islands, an cognitive old Survivor abilities contestant is has the concealed ability a box to of gold select won one in a message reward from challenge another. We Although do several hundred this people by (fans, focusing contestants, our and producers) have attention looked on for it certain they cues have such not as found type it style. rumour When has we it focus that 300 our paces attention due on west certain from stimuli tribal the council message and in then other 200 stimuli paces is due not north X marks clearly the spot identified. Apparently However enough some gold information can from be the had unattended to source purchase may the be very detected island!

Filtering out stimuli -- In many situations people get easily distracted. In fact, you can often grab people's attention away from what they are focusing on. But it is also possible for people to pay attention to one thing and filter out all other stimuli. This is called selective attention.

Unconscious selective attention -- You are walking down a path in the woods, thinking about an upcoming business trip you are taking, and you see a snake on the ground. You freeze and jump backwards. Your heart starts racing. You are ready to run away. But wait, it's not a snake. It's just a stick. You calm down and keep walking on the path. You noticed the stick, and even responded to it, in a largely unconscious way.My book, Neuro Web Design: What makes them click, is all about unconscious mental processing. Some of the time you are aware of your conscious selective attention, for example, when you were reading the paragraph at the beginning of the chapter. But there is also a lot of selective attention that operates unconsciously.

What do you think? How good are you at selective attention?

Well Practiced Skills Don't Require Thinking

Sustained Attention Lasts 10 Minutes

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