365 Ways To Persuade & Motivate: #1 Direct Eye Contact Is Not Always Best

Photo of Presidents Clinton and Ford looking at each other

We’ve all been told how important it is to make eye contact when interacting with other people. Direct eye contact makes you seem trustworthy, confident, and interested in the topic you are discussing, right? All those things are true BUT new research shows that direct eye contact can lessen the effectiveness of your message in one critical situation:

Frances Chen researched people listening and watching videos of other people talking about controversial social and/or political topics. Participants watched videos with speakers discussing topics with a strong viewpoint that was opposite to what the participants believed. Some participants were asked to watch the speaker’s eyes, and others were asked to watch the speaker’s mouth. Participants who watched the speaker’s eyes were LESS likely to change their opinion on the topic than the participants who watched the speaker’s mouth.

Why would this be true? Chen’s hypothesis is that direct eye contact can be seen as threatening.

Implications?:

  • If you are talking to people who agree with you, and trying to get them fired up to take action, then use direct eye contact.
  • But If you are talking to people who don’t agree with you, then you may want to minimize the amount of direct eye contact you have.
  • If you are making a video and you believe that people will agree with you, then look right into the camera lense.
  • If you are making a video and you think people don’t agree with you, then look off to the side instead of into the camera.

What do you think? Have you experienced this difference between eye contact and whether you agree with the person speaking?

Here’s the research citation:

Chen, F.S., Minson, J.A., Schöne, M., & Heinrichs, M. (in press). In the eye of the beholder: Eye contact increases resistance to persuasion. Psychological Science.

To learn more check out our 1 day seminar on The Science of Persuasion.

10 Ways To Get User Feedback

Recently I was talking to someone who is relatively new to the field of usability and user experience. He has developed a web application and wanted some ideas for getting feedback from users. He commented that he was planning on sending out a survey to users to see what they think about the web application. That was his plan for user testing. I’m so entrenched in the concept of usability and user testing that I have to stop sometimes and remember that not everyone else is.

“Well, you do have other choices besides doing a survey, you know”, I said.

“Oh, really?” he asked, “like what?”.

“I’ll send you some ideas,” I replied, and then I thought, “That would make a good blog post”, and, here we are.

1. “Traditional” moderated usability test – Let’s start with the most well-known and most used method of getting feedback from users. In a moderated usability test the user sits down in front of the software, web site web application, or other product that you are testing and uses the product, site or item to get one or more tasks done. The tester designs the test with real-life scenarios and asks the user to use the product or tool or site to go through and actually do the scenarios. The user is asked to talk out loud while they are completing the scenarios, so that the tester can understand what they are thinking and experiencing as they complete the activities they have been asked to do.  It’s called moderated because there is a facilitator to moderate the testing.

It’s important in a moderated usability test that:

  • Users must be representative of the actual user. It doesn’t work to use you or friend in the next cubicle, or your sister. The idea is to have a representative user try to use the site or product to get real tasks done.
  • Although you may be collecting other data, such as time to complete the task or number or types of errors made, the main data comes from the comments users make while they are working (called the “think aloud” technique).
  • Tests are done one-on-one. This isn’t a focus group.
  • Some facilitators “probe” with questions during the test, but this is tricky to do. You don’t want your questions to influence the user. Some facilitators wait until the tasks are completed before asking questions (called “de-briefing”).

Pros: Gives you lots of great data on what the usability issues are

Cons: Fairly expensive to conduct. You do these one at a time, so if you are testing 10 users that’s a lot of your time to be at the sessions, plan them,  analyze and report on data, etc. You may also need to pay for recruiting users and you need to give them an “incentive” (pay them in some way with cash, gift certificates etc). Continue reading “10 Ways To Get User Feedback”

10 Best Posts of 2009

It’s that time of year — so here is my list of the 10 best posts from my blog in 2009. I chose the 10 that I believe have had the greatest impact/most thought provoking/most interest from my readers.

#1: Dopamine Makes You Addicted to Seeking Information — I thought this was an interesting post when I wrote it, but it surprised me how quickly it took off virally; more than any other post I’ve written!

#2: Eyetracking — 7 Traps to Avoid — Another surprise to me how popular this post was.

#3: 7 Steps to Successful Web Site Redesign — I think Jacek Utko has an important view of the world.

#4: Your Attention is Riveted By Pictures of People — If people knew how important this is I think they’d change the pictures they put at their web site.

#5: Web Site User Experience Anatomy — Not one of my posts, but a guest post by Craig Tomlin, and an interesting way to think about web sites. Continue reading “10 Best Posts of 2009”

100 Things You Should Know About People: #20 — Your Attention Is Riveted By Pictures Of People

Picture of a baby looking right at the camera Second only to movement (animation, video), pictures of a human face capture attention in any medium, including websites. Pictures of a human face not only capture attention, but keep the attention on that part of the screen even when the picture goes away.

We start young — With some creative experiments it has been proven that babies as young as 4 months old will look at pictures of other people more than pictures of other objects or of animals. And this preference for faces continues throughout the life span. It seems to be part of our brain wiring.

The eyes have it — Research using eye tracking shows that when you show people a picture of the face of a person, their attention goes mostly to the eyes. If you want to capture someone’s attention at a website, showing a picture of a person who is looking right into the camera captures the most attention. Continue reading “100 Things You Should Know About People: #20 — Your Attention Is Riveted By Pictures Of People”

100 Things You Should Know About People: #19 — It’s a Myth That All Capital Letters Are Inherently Harder to Read

WHAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO READ IN THE NEXT PARAGRAPH IS COMMONLY BELIEVED, BUT NOT TRUE — You read by recognizing the shapes of words and groups of words. Words that are in all capital letters all have the same shape: a rectangle of a certain size. This makes words displayed in all uppercase harder to read than upper and lower case (known as “mixed case”).  Mixed case words are easier to read because they make unique shapes, as demonstrated by the picture below.

The shapes of words

OK, NOW THE TRUE STUFF STARTS — When I started this article the topic was supposed to be why all capital letters are harder to read. Like most people with a usability background or a cognitive psychology background, I can describe the research — just what I wrote in the first paragraph above. I decided to look up and cite the actual research rather than just passing on the general knowledge and belief.

The research doesn’t exist, or “It’s complicated” — Something happened when I went to find the research on the shape of words and how that is related to all capital letters being harder to read. There isn’t research showing that exactly. It’s more complicated, and ultimately, more controversial. In July of 2004 Kevin Larson wrote an article that is posted at the Microsoft website that explains in depth all the research on this topic. I’ve picked out several ideas from that article and am presenting them here. A link to Kevin’s article, plus some of his research citations are at the end of this blog for those of you who want more detail. Continue reading “100 Things You Should Know About People: #19 — It’s a Myth That All Capital Letters Are Inherently Harder to Read”

Eyetracking Studies — 7 Traps to Avoid

In my last post I talked about eyetracking. I don’t actually do a lot of eyetracking work, but this past week I was asked to give a talk on a panel about eyetracking at the SES (Search Engine Strategy) conference in Chicago, so it is kind of on my mind. So one more post about eyetracking, and then I’ll move on to different topics!

At the conference I talked about the 7 traps to avoid if you are contemplating conducting an eyetracking study. In my last post I briefly explain what eyetracking is:

“Eye tracking is a technology that allows you to see and record what a person is looking at, and for how long. One way it is used is to study web sites to see where people are looking on a web page, where they look first, second, etc. It’s a pretty interesting technology, one of the benefits being that you don’t have to rely on what people SAY they are looking at, but can collect the data directly.”

Here’s a brief summary of my talk at the conference:

Trap #1: Underestimating the effect of what you ask people to do on where they look — When you are doing an eyetracking study you are interested in where people are looking on the screen. But the research shows that where they look depends on what you have asked them. See my last post for details and examples on this.

Trap #2: Assuming that where people are looking is what they are paying attention to — At the SES conference I believe Shari Thurow (who spoke on the panel with me) called this the ketchup effect (or maybe it was the milk effect or the refrigerator effect). Have you ever opened the refrigerator to get the ketchup out and you can’t find it? Even though it is right in front of you? People often look at something without paying attention to it. And we have peripheral vision too, so it is also possible for people to be looking at one thing and actually paying attention to something nearby. Continue reading “Eyetracking Studies — 7 Traps to Avoid”

100 Things You Should Know About People: #18 — What People Look At On a Picture Or Screen Depends On What You Say To Them

Yarbus Eye Tracking Picture
Yarbus Eye Tracking Picture

Eye tracking is a technology that allows you to see and record what a person is looking at, and for how long. One way it is used is to study web sites to see where people are looking on a web page, where they look first, second, etc. It’s a pretty interesting technology, one of the benefits being that you don’t have to rely on what people SAY they are looking at, but can collect the data directly. Like any technology, however, it’s not perfect, and one of the problems with eye tracking is that you can’t just give people a web site to look at and then assume that where they look is what they are “really interested” in.

We underestimate the effect our instructions have on where someone looks. Look at the picture at the beginning of this post. In research by Yarbus, people were shown this picture, and then given different instructions of what to think about while looking at the picture. Below are the eye gaze patterns matched with the instructions that people were given: Continue reading “100 Things You Should Know About People: #18 — What People Look At On a Picture Or Screen Depends On What You Say To Them”