How does the brain work when confronted with an interface? (Episod 2)

In the first episod we have seen that every task performed on a site will lead to a different perceptive-cognitive behaviour. 

Yarbus ocular movement

Let’s now analyze the first two tasks:

Task 1: free screening of the image (“Look at the image in front of you”). 

Task 2: perform a task that involves answering a question (“What is the social level of this family?”)

The fundamental difference between these two tasks consists in the use of the brain. The first task involves no prior action of the brain, whereas in the second case, the brain will act before looking at the image. 

Ready, steady, go!

Task 1: free screening 

  1. The eye receives information on the image and will transform this information into electrical pulses.
  2. Then, the information is sent via the optic nerve to the vision centre (occipital lobe of our brain).
  3. The information is analyzed and separated in the parietal lobe (at this stage, the information still hasn’t received any meaning).
  4. In the next step, the information travels to the frontal lobe in order to be analyzed. Here, the information will be given a meaning.
  5. If the information is considered to be interesting, it will be stocked in our long-term memory. 

This mechanism is typical of free screening, which will almost never occur on the Internet. A user has an objective (find information, book a DVD, view the details of an invoice,…). Let’s now have a look at how our perceptive-cognitive system works when we are looking for the answer to a specific question. 

Task 2: “What is the social level of the family”?

  1. The frontal lobe, which is amongst others responsible for our reasoning, will try to gather all the information needed to answer the question (“What do I need to find in order to determine the social level of this family?”). To do so, it will…
  2. … gather all known elements that will allow it to solve the problem (social level = furniture, clothing, …).
  3. All these elements will be fed into what is called a mental model (a kind of knowledge map of the problem and how to solve it), stored in the working memory of the frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is also the centre of the involuntary movements of the eye. This is why the brain will guide the visual system in order to find the information necessary to answer the given question.
  4. The eyes, guided by the brain, will voluntarily look at certain zones of the image.
  5. The information is then send to the vision centre (the occipital lobe of our brain).
  6. The information is analyzed and separated in the parietal lobe (at this stage, the information still hasn’t received any meaning).
  7. In order to be analyzed and to be given a meaning, the info is sent to the frontal lobe. There, it will be compared with the mental model so the given question can be answered.
  8. If we feel the information is interesting, we will store it in our long-term memory. 

Wow: the brain guides our eye when we need to perform a task. 

Wow: not all the information in the image will be looked at. 

The same happens on a website. According to the kind of task:

1. The brain will gather the information it needs to build a mental model.

2. The brain will guide our eyes to information it considers useful to solve the problem. Once we have found the zone we need, our eyes will look at its content. 

3. The information’s is assessed, analyzed, compared. Our brain will attribute the visited zone a certain level of usefulness in performing the task. 

4. After the analysis and the action, the brain will choose the best element capable of solving the given problem and will guide the movement of the mouse towards an element to click on, for instance. 

5. The elements, their usefulness and the experience are stored in our long-term memory. 

All this mostly happens unconsciously. Even better: this mechanism is the same for all users. This constitutes the fundamentals that will allow us to transcend subjectivity and to work with an objective basis to start from. 

The role of the experts consists in building interfaces that take into account this mechanism: 

  1. Know which tasks people perform or will perform on a site,
  2. Range the tasks into the different memory systems of the brain (the references of the user’s brain, the way in which the user will organise the content on the site into different semantic collections, the words that are used most often, the optimal visual organisation of the page,…). 
  3. Build solutions that take into account all these different elements (I will come back on this topic in the next posts). 

There you go, I hope this will help you in your development work. 

Have a nice week. Marc 

Simplifyinginterfaces-Keypoints:How does the brain work when confronted to an interface ? (Episod 2)