Psychological facts about human attention we refer to in UX and web design

1. We have different types of attention

It is crucial to consider the context in which the product will be used and the type of attention required in that particular setting.

Different types of attention are important to consider when designing a product, as the context in which it will be used can influence how people concentrate and pay attention. Two examples of attention types are sustained attention, which is important in situations such as placing an order at a fast food kiosk, and divided attention, which is crucial when using a navigation app while driving. In both cases, the design of the product should support the necessary type of attention and minimise distractions.

Attention is a multifaceted cognitive process that varies depending on the context in which it is used. Designers and developers must consider the type of attention required in a given situation and create websites that cater to those needs. By doing so, they can capture and maintain users’ attention, resulting in a better user experience and higher engagement with the product.

2. We have a shrinking or evolving attention

In recent years, there has been much debate about the state of our attention span. While some research suggests that our attention span is shrinking, many specialists disagree. They argue that our ability to pay attention has not decreased but has merely evolved in response to our ever-changing technological landscape.

One of the most significant changes in the way we pay attention has been the rise of multitasking. While some argue that multitasking is not possible, others suggest that it is simply a matter of shifting our attention from one task to another quickly. They argue that the mobile age has made us better at multitasking and that our ability to switch between tasks quickly has improved.

Despite this, there are still many who believe that our attention spans are not shrinking, but that we are simply becoming better at filtering out distractions. We are learning to tune out irrelevant information more effectively and focus on what is important.

One argument against the idea that our attention spans are shrinking is that attention span is highly dependent on personal characteristics and context. What works for one person may not work for another, and what works in one context may not work in another. Therefore, it is essential to consider the context in which your product will be used and how your target audience interacts with your product.

In conclusion, the state of our attention span is a complex issue that is still being debated by specialists. While some argue that our attention span is shrinking, others suggest that it is merely evolving in response to our technological landscape. Ultimately, the key to understanding how to capture and maintain our audience’s attention is to consider the context in which our website or app will be used and to continuously research and adapt our strategies to meet our audience’s evolving needs.

3. Content captures our attention

In today’s fast-paced world, where technology and digital media have taken over our daily lives, attention has become a scarce commodity. It is becoming increasingly difficult to hold someone’s focus for even a few minutes, let alone hours. With so many distractions, it’s no surprise that people’s attention spans are getting shorter.

However, according to the Hungarian presentation platform Prezi’s 2018 State of Attention report, people are not losing their ability to focus. In fact, the report found that people are improving their focus over time, despite all the distractions around them. So what makes content engaging and able to hold people’s attention?

The report found that for all generations, the key to engaging content lies in providing a compelling narrative and stimulating, animated visuals. In other words, people are more likely to pay attention to content that tells a story and uses visually appealing graphics and animations.

The report also touched upon the issue of multitasking, which has become a common practice in today’s world. According to the report, 52% of responders admitted that splitting their attention across two or more pieces of content has caused them to watch, read or listen to something multiple times. This highlights the importance of providing content that is focused and easy to consume.

Moreover, the report emphasises the need to continuously improve our ability to focus in order to retain information and get things done quickly and effectively. Out of more than 2000 respondents, 49% said they had become more selective about the content they consume. This means that people are becoming more mindful of what they choose to engage with and are looking for content that adds value to their lives.

In conclusion, the Prezi State of Attention report provides valuable insights into what makes content engaging and able to hold people’s attention in today’s world. By focusing on creating compelling narratives and stimulating visuals, content creators can improve their chances of capturing their audience’s attention. It is also important to understand that people’s attention spans are not necessarily shrinking but rather, we are becoming more selective about what we choose to engage with.

4. There are differences between generations

When it comes to attention, different generations have distinct behaviors and patterns. The Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials, who often work together, have been found to exhibit noticeable differences in their attention spans. According to a study, Millennials tend to lose focus and engage in multitasking more often than their older counterparts. However, they also subjectively feel that they can concentrate more effectively and for longer periods of time. While this may present a challenge for some industries, it also presents an opportunity. Millennials crave a well-crafted story or theme and appreciate visual aids that support the information being presented. The study revealed that one-third of Millennials only engage with content that has a compelling story, as it helps them stay interested. Thus, by catering to their unique preferences, businesses can better capture the attention of this generation and deliver their message effectively.

5. There is an intricate relationship between attention, memory, and information-processing in the brain

The brain’s information-processing mechanism is a complex process that involves various cognitive functions. At the forefront of this process is attention, which plays a crucial role in our ability to perceive, process, and manipulate information. Essentially, attention acts as a filter that directs our focus towards a specific stimulus, whether it’s visual, auditory, or olfactory, enabling us to take in sensory information.

Once we’ve directed our attention towards the stimulus, the next step involves the processing of this information. This process is dependent on our working memory, which plays a crucial role in our ability to manipulate and retain information for short periods. In essence, our working memory is the place where we store and manipulate the information that we are currently focusing on.

Therefore, attention, working memory, and short-term memory are interdependent processes that work in tandem to facilitate the efficient processing of information in the brain. The ability to focus our attention on a stimulus and retain the information in our working memory plays a vital role in our cognitive abilities, such as problem-solving, decision-making, and learning.

6. How we process information has a capacity

Researchers have been studying the capacity of human information processing, seeking to understand how our nervous system transmits and decodes messages. Surprisingly, they discovered that while our sensory system receives 11 million bits of information every second, our conscious mind can only process a maximum of 50 bits, such as when we are reading or playing a musical instrument. However, this massive discrepancy does not mean that over 99% of the information goes missing. Rather, it is due to an incredible compression process that occurs unconsciously and automatically.

How does this compression happen? Firstly, we do not need to make a conscious effort to process information, and the compression occurs automatically. Secondly, there is a half-second delay between processing and compression. Fortunately, the vast number of connections between our 100 billion brain cells allows us just enough time to compress this information.

7. We filter out irrelevant information

With the overwhelming amount of online content and marketing messages bombarding us every day, it’s no surprise that we have developed techniques to filter out irrelevant information. We may come across something interesting in our feed, but if we don’t have time to engage with it, it quickly disappears. This creates a challenge for both users and content creators. However, despite this flood of information, we have the ability to focus on what’s important at any given moment. The “cocktail-party effect” demonstrates that we can tune out background noise in order to concentrate on a conversation, but we can also eavesdrop on other conversations if we choose to. Interestingly, we can only focus on one stream of attention when it comes to understanding speech, and assigning meaning to that stream requires our full attention.

8. We don’t see everything on websites and apps

Despite crafting a well-designed and user-friendly mobile app or website, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that users will easily complete their tasks efficiently without any interruptions. Even if the design is uninterrupted, clean, simple, and with a flat design, it doesn’t guarantee that users will process everything that is on the screen. Like reading, when we focus our attention on a small amount of space with only two bits of information per letter, we cannot process, notice, and interpret all the written content on that page in just a few seconds. Typically, we don’t process the information outside of our attention on the screen, including areas and functions that may fall outside of our focus.

9. We balance cognitive load

On a daily basis, we are faced with the challenge of determining what to focus our limited and valuable attention on. Often, we are bombarded with an excessive amount of stimuli, whether it be visual cues, messages, or verbal communication, which can lead to overstimulation. Consequently, we learn to tune out many things and perform routine tasks automatically. While some tasks can be completed simultaneously, others require an immense amount of focus and attention. For example, listening to music while reading or working is feasible, but checking a recipe on a tablet while precisely chopping carrots is not. This is because performing two demanding tasks simultaneously is not possible.