1.14 The Smarter Screen

Surprising ways to influence and improve online behavior

1.14.1 Introduction to the mental screen

Some key words: inattention blindness, neuro-economists, cognitive taxes, shortage of attention

Focus on the mental, not the physical, screen Factor in the attention environment Use information compression techniques Incorporate attention filters Human attention has become the sweet crude oil for the 21st century. Wealth is generated by those who control attention.

Money chases scarcity Exorbitant commission of OTAs Apple is the most valuable company in the world according to its market capitalization

It doesn’t matter how much data you throw up onto the screen—we can notice only about 4 bits of it. The rest is noise. Wasted pixels.

Experiment: 7 digits (63% chose the cake) v.s. 2 digits (41% chose the cake)

a shortage of cognitive resources can also help explain the poor decision making of those living in poverty. Studies show that people of lower socioeconomic status are less likely to adhere to drug regimens, less likely to slow up on time or keep an appointment, less focused at work, and worse at financial planning. While conventional explanations focus on a lack of education as the root cause, the scientist focus on “the mental processes required by poverty.” They argue that being poor is an all-consuming condition and that a “preoccupation with pressing budgetary concerns” leaves people with fewer attentional resources to make long-term plans. “Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function”

If a few extra numbers are enough to sway us to choose chocolate cake, then how are we affected by a world in which our screens are always alerting us to new emails and texts and hyperlinks? ……psychologist found that simply having an unread e-mail in your inbox is so distracting that it reduces your effective IQ score by roughly 10 points. Inattention blindness occurs when the amount of information streaming into the brain exceeds our ability to process it.

A study by neuro-economists: consumers making food choices under a heavy “cognitive load” were far more likely to choose items that were easy to perceive, even if they conflicted with their actual food preference.

Possible solutions:

Compression: although we could pay attention to only a few bits of information at any given moment, we were also capable of chunking those bits together. Chunking was typically a by-product of experience. Accelerating chunking process is possible. [use visual instead of words] Leave information out: always try to strip away everything but the essential Experiment: UCLA, give women smartphones capable of tracking movement and pinging them with health-related questions, healthier life Author’s opinion: technology can help at the margins and reduce the magnitude of some very costly societal problems (properly take medication, quit smoking, prevent drunk driving, etc.)

A/B testing: sometimes lead to significant insights, even if the changes themselves are relatively simple.

Hui: how people design the change to test?

There is nothing inherently scary about scarcity. One of the basic premises of economics is that scarcity is an inevitable by-product of progress. As Adam Smith pointed out in The Wealth of Nations:

nature might be able to satisfy the wants of brutes and animals, but human beings seek constant improvement, which leads to recurring shortages.

1.14.2 Function Follows Form

Key words: subliminal priming

“Fast-test” your site Maximize visceral beauty When in doubt, err on the side of simplicity Fast aesthetics: we seem to render verdicts about the appeal of a website very quickly. These verdicts stay the same even when we have given far more time. We know that we like before we even know what we are looking at.

Ex: showing people the Apple logo for a fraction of a second improves their performance on creative takes

Assumption: screens exaggerate fast verdicts generated by the unconscious brain. It makes us more impulsive and reactive.

Finding: online clicks don’t last for long. 55% visitors spend less than 15s reading an article.

Insight: the average Web visitor isn’t carefully assessing the content — they are just reacting to their first impression, making a quick decision to engage or look away…… We have traded away depth for speed.

Modeling beauty: the most relevant aesthetic features are colorfulness and visual complexity

Demographics impact aesthetic preference:

40, more visually complicated web, text-heavy and featured many distinct text groups, less saturated colors

young, sites with saturated color and larger images Look of trust: aesthetics affect perceptions of usability prettier cell phone

In the age of screen, there is nothing superficial about beauty

1.14.3 Display Biases

  • Optimize the use of hot spots
  • Avoid cold spots
  • Consider cultural differences in hotspot location
  • Factor in the horizontal bias
  • Sometimes zoom out, not in

1.14.4 New Mirror

  • Calibrate the amount of feedback
  • Use just-in-time education
  • Leverage the fresh start effect
  • Make us feel the feedback
  • Use carrots (and not sticks) whenever possible
  • Be aware of social media conformity effects
  • Take screen anonymity into account
  • Empower feedback with an action plan

1.14.5 Desirable difficulty

  • Consider ugly fonts (and other forms of visual disfluency)
  • Use cognitive disfluency to slow the mind down
  • Calibrate disfluency to fit your site’s goals


A: Laptop note-taking more likely to take - “verbatim” notes on the lecture.

B: Hand notes were forced to summarize the content

B engaged with the material at a deeper level.

  • Need to consider the demand for cognitive ease (complete a transaction, make a quick purchase) v.s. benefits of desirable difficulty (learning and memory)

1.14.6 Digital tailoring

  • Use personalized visuals and videos
  • Tailor the timing of messages
  • Tailor the menus to each individual
  • Offer more than one Web site
  • Remember: too much personalization can backfire

1.14.7 Choice opportunity

  • Offer a manageable consideration set
  • Personalize categories
  • Incorporate choice tournaments
  • Manage regret with choice closure
  • Avoid navigation overload
  • Mange attribute overload
  • Maximize satisfaction, not clicks

1.14.8 Thinking apps

  • Start with choice architecture
  • Set the right information environment
  • Offer thinking tools