Have you ever wondered why traffic always slows when people are driving by an accident? Do you moan about the fact that people are attracted by the gruesome, and yet find that you glance over too as you drive by? Well, it’s not really your fault, you (and everybody else) can’t resist looking at scenes of danger. It’s your “old brain” telling you to PAY ATTENTION.
You have 3 brains — In my book, Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? I talk about the idea that you really don’t have one brain, you have three. The “new brain” is the conscious, reasoning, logical brain that you think you know best; the mid brain” is the part of the brain that processes emotions, and the “old brain” is the part of the brain that is most interested in your survival.
From reptiles to people — If you look at brains from an evolutionary perspective, the “old brain” developed first (hence the name “old brain”!). In fact, that part of our brain is very similar to the brain of a reptile, which is why some people call it the “reptilian” brain.
“Can I eat it? Can I have sex with it? Will it kill me?” – The job of your old brain is to constantly scan the environment and answer the questions: “Can I eat it? Can I have sex with it? Will it kill me?” That’s really all the old brain cares about, is food sex and danger. When you think about it, this is important. Without food you’ll die, without sex the species won’t continue, and if you are killed the other two questions don’t matter. So animal brains developed early on to care intensely about these three topics. As animals evolved they developed other capacities (emotions, logical thought), but they retained a part of their brain to always be scanning what is going on for these three critical questions.
You Can’t Resist — What this means is that you just can’t resist noticing food, sex, or danger. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to not notice these 3 things in your surroundings, you will always notice them. It’s the old brain working. You don’t necessarily have to do anything once you notice, for example, you don’t have to eat the chocolate cake when you see it, you don’t have to flirt with the attractive person who walked into the room, and you don’t have to run away from the large scary guy that walked in the room with the good looking woman. But you WILL notice all of those things whether you want to or not.
Cake, Pretty Woman, and a Crash on the home page — I get emails from people who have read about the old brain in my book. They will write to me wanting advice about how they should fit a picture of cake, a woman in a bikini, and an industrial accident all at the home page of their corporate website. (I do get some interesting emails!). I’m not advocating that you do that! I am pointing out that if you want to get someone’s attention at a website, then any images or headlines that include or imply food, sex, or danger will definitely get attention. But you will have to decide what is appropriate!
Have you seen any good examples of websites that use these ideas effectively (besides just sex sites — don’t send me URLs for those)?
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