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Manipulation— or just skillful influence
Three case studies illustrating the intersection of evolutionary psychology and advertising design in the 21st century.

Memory, Attention
& Psychology


 









We have no future cause our present is too volatile. We only have risk management. The spinning of the given moment’s scenarios. Pattern Recognition. 

― William Gibson, Mona Lisa Overdrive

Case Study I – Persuasion via pattern recognition  


Evolutionary psychology holds that although we live in a modern, digital world with space travel and virtual reality, we navigate this world with much of the same mentality of Stone Age hunter-gatherers. Much of the way we think and behave today stems from cognitive processes that have evolved over millennia and kept us alive and successful as a species today. One of those is our ability to recognise patterns. And while the world today is a little less life-or-death oriented than it was 200,000 years ago, we still rely on pattern recognition today to go about our lives, largely on auto-pilot. The less we have to think about when interacting with everything in our environment, the better. These can be things as simple as, without even looking, knowing which button is ‘Cancel’ or ‘Submit’ based on the shape, size, and colour of the buttons, or connecting an ancient floppy disk outline to the concept of saving a document.

Patterns are also commonly seen in sequences of actions that we have done multiple times. Like signing up to create an account or the checkout part of an online shop. We structure our designs in ways that users have seen before and therefore easily understood without having to study it. However, when we are in this auto-pilot, not-really-thinking state, we are also susceptible to being misled. By knowing the likelihood that users will blindly follow patterns without further inspection, some app creators will use this knowledge to manipulate users’ actions. We don’t need to read every single word on the page and when booking a flight we’re mostly on auto-pilot (no pun intended). But some airlines use this to their advantage by pre-selecting add-ons such as seat reservations or insurance without the user’s permission. The price goes up, Jetstar expects the user to just follow the usual pattern and click ‘continue’ while making it hard to find the option to continue without seat selection. And this is not too uncommon.

For a long time, web and app creators have been exploiting our pattern-recognition brains to manipulate us into doing things we don’t want to do. Our tendency to see patterns everywhere sometimes leads us to see patterns even when none exist.  





Engagement, Interest
Time


 








The greatest leaders in the world fight cognitive bias by developing “rules to live by” and carefully following predetermined routines to maximize efficiency and control of their environment...imagine a world full of people who take their choices seriously, carefully weighing the options presented to them. 

― Spencer Fraseur, The Irrational Mind: How To Fight Back Against The Hidden Forces That Affect Our Decision Making

Case Study II – Infinite Scrolling against pagination


Infinite scrolling is a technique used in web design in which the web page continuously loads new data as the viewer scrolls down. Infinite scrolling encourages people to engage with the content, rather than having to bother too much with navigation or the “Next” button. It also removes the need for pages to preload — which means less waiting and more engagement for users. In order to ensure a smooth scrolling experience, the content for the next page starts loading while the user is still on the previous page.

Social media and content-focussed websites use infinite scroll to maintain the flow of content, maximize user engagement, and ensure that users spend a significant amount of time on the website. If the content is endless, this means ads are endless too. Hence, if optimized carefully, infinite scrolling could result in a higher impression count and better CPM.

Reddit, the third most popular website in the US and a platform for variable rewards of information, keeps users on their platform endlessly scrolling to see what they might find, never fully satisfied. In the trance-like state of scrolling, moderation and self-control become de-prioritised. These apps have removed pagination that pulls the user out of the trance for a second and replaced it with the infinite scroll feature so users can just continue hunting. News apps will show ‘related stories’ at the bottom of an article and their titles will intrigue us enough to “pull the lever” and click to see what we will find on the other side. Even going down a Wikipedia rabbit hole, clicking on link after link, keeps our attention as we are relentlessly curious.


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Autonomy, Mastery
Purpose


 









To really change the world, we have to help people change the way they see things. Global betterment is a mental process, not one that requires huge sums of money or a high level of authority. Change has to be psychological. So if you want to see real change, stay persistent in educating humanity on how similar we all are than different.

― Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

Case Study III – Gamification of everything


Psychology is present in any activity that requires thought, behavioural patterns and motivation, so just about everything. That means that gamification which is deeply entrenched in all three of these ideals is a concept that is fuelled by psychological principles. Influencing user behaviour. It’s a phrase that will always make brands, employers and education boards sit up and pay attention. Getting users to make the decisions you want them to make is the main purpose of a gamified pathway. Gamification is often referred to as the application of motivational sciences to menial tasks in order to promote positive growth in initiative numbers. Gamification’s success is rooted in three motivational elements. These motivators avoid extrinsic values such as monetary rewards but rather tap into intrinsic values, such as social and self-esteem building rewards.

1. Autonomy


People can choose whether they want to opt-in or not and then make their own choices as they proceed through the game.

2. Mastery


As players master the game, they receive constant positive feedback, motivating them to try even harder. This moves the player past a traditional evidence-based rewards program and into the realm of the emotional checkmate.

3. Purpose


Unlike typical games, gamification has an overriding purpose. “Gamification engages players on an emotional level to help them achieve a goal that is meaningful to them.”

In conclusion, user behaviour is changed through; positive experiences. We all have feelings, ambitions, insecurities, and reasons for whether or not we want to do certain things. Gamification being structured around Human-Focused Design optimises for these feelings, motivations, and engagements in order to motivate a user to complete a task, whether that be in the context of gamified business, eLearning, gamified marketing, or even gamified health. 






  









by Reana Agrawal