What Conference(s) Should You Go To This Year?

We speak at a lot of conferences, and attend a few too. In this episode of Human Tech we “review” many of the conferences we’ve been to (that have conference dates coming up in the next 12 months). Some you probably know, and others you may never have heard of. These are all in the US, UK, Israel, and Europe. Maybe one of these will be part of your next traveling adventure!

Human Tech is a podcast at the intersection of humans, brain science, and technology. Your hosts Guthrie and Dr. Susan Weinschenk explore how behavioral and brain science affects our technologies and how technologies affect our brains.

You can subscribe to the HumanTech podcast through iTunes, Stitcher, or where ever you listen to podcasts.

A New Course On Color And Design

I’m so excited to be adding courses on color and design to our online training curriculum.

Katie Stern, who has multiple degrees, books, and lots of experience designing with color and teaching others how to do the same, has put together the first course in what will be a whole curriculum on Color and User Experience (UX) Design.

The first course is Color Terms, Tools And More. I took it myself and learned so much from it. I highly recommend it.

Here’s a short introduction to the course:

If you use the promo code


when you register you will receive 35% off the regular price. This special price is for two weeks, March 1 to 15, 2018.

Here’s some more info about the course:

You will learn color terminology, the basics of color theory, and how to communicate color information with your team.

If you are analyzing or designing a product or website, then you are working with color. Making color choices can be unconscious or intentional, depending on how much thought you put into them. Identifying colors that will create a great user experience can be a daunting task, especially if you don’t have the vocabulary to communicate about color with your UX team members. When you learn color terminology you will be better able to communicate your color design intentions.

You will learn:

The challenges involved with naming colors
The difference between the additive and subtractive color systems
How pigment color is different than digital color
How monochromatic color schemes are built
The definition of tints, tones, and shades and how to create them
How the Adobe Color Picker and Paletton help build color schemes

and much, much more!

So check out the course and let us know if you have any questions.

The Dopamine Seeking-Reward Loop, or “Why Can’t I Stop Scrolling On My Newsfeed”

We’ve all been there. You glance at Instagram (or your twitter feed, or your Linked in feed, or Facebook, or your newspaper app…). You look at the first entry and then the next, and then swipe with your finger or thumb to see what comes next and then next, and before you know it 15 minutes has gone by.

You just became part of a dopamine seeking-reward loop.

Here’s a video I recently recorded about the dopamine seeking-reward loop and what to do about it. And below is a text summary of the video.

I wrote an article in 2012  about dopamine and how it helps you become “addicted” to texts and also to searching.  That was 2012 and by now stimulating the dopamine loop has become ubiquitous and is involved in almost everything you do on your smartphone. So let’s re-visit the dopamine loop:

Dopamine was “discovered” in 1958 by Arvid Carlsson and Nils-Ake Hillarp at the National Heart Institute of Sweden. Dopamine is created in various parts of the brain and is critical in all sorts of brain functions, including thinking, moving,  sleeping, mood, attention, and motivation.

The “seeking” brain chemical — Dopamine was originally thought of as critical in the “pleasure” systems of the brain. It was thought that dopamine makes you feel enjoyment and pleasure, thereby motivating you to seek out certain behaviors, such as food, sex, and drugs. But then research began to show that dopamine is also critical in causing seeking behavior. Dopamine causes you to want, desire, seek out, and search. It increases your general level of arousal and your goal-directed behavior. Dopamine makes you curious about ideas and fuels your searching for information.

Two systems —  According to researcher Kent Berridge, there are two systems, the “wanting”  and the “liking”  and these two system are complementary. Dopamine is part of the wanting system. It propels you to take action. The liking system makes you feel satisfied and therefore pause your seeking. But the dopamine wanting system  is stronger than the liking system. You tend to seek more than you are satisfied.  You can get into a dopamine loop. If your seeking isn’t turned off at least for a little while, then you start to run in an endless loop.

The scrolling dopamine loop — When  you bring up the feed on one of your favorite apps the dopamine loop has become engaged. With every photo you scroll through, headline you read, or link you go to you are feeding the loop which just makes you want more. It takes a lot to reach satiation, and in fact you might never be satisfied. Chances are what makes you stop is that someone interrupts you. It turns out the dopamine system doesn’t have satiety built in.

Anticipatory rewards and pavlovian cues — The dopamine system is especially sensitive to “cues” that a reward is coming (remember Ivan Pavlov?) If there is a small, specific cue that signifies that something is going to happen, that sets off our dopamine system. So when there is a sound (auditory cue) or a visual cue that a notification has arrived, that cue enhances the addictive effect. It’s not the reward itself that keeps the dopamine loop going; it’s the anticipation of the reward. Robert Sapolsky talks about this anticipation/dopamine connection in his research.

Or maybe turn off the device altogether for a while. Radical idea, I know.


Here are some references:

Arvid Carlsson and Nils-Ake Hillarp at the National Heart Institute of Sweden first “discovered” dopamine in 1958

Kent C. Berridge and Terry E. Robinson, What is the role of dopamine in reward: hedonic impact, reward learning, or incentive salience?: Brain Research Reviews, 28, 1998. 309–369.

Robert Sapolsky —

Dopamine Jackpot – Anticipating Reward

Alfonso de la Nuez On The Role Of User Research In The Future

Alfonso de la Nuez started in the field of usability with his small services company in Spain and ended up in California co-founding the user research software firm UserZoom. Last year UserZoom customers conducted more than 12,000 user research projects.

In this episode of the Human Tech podcast we talk with Alfonso, the CEO of UserZoom, about the current state and likely future of user research and testing, what makes user research successful inside a large enterprise, and much more.

You can check out UserZoom here, and you can email Alfonso at alfonso@userzoom.com

Human Tech is a podcast at the intersection of humans, brain science, and technology. Your hosts Guthrie and Dr. Susan Weinschenk explore how behavioral and brain science affects our technologies and how technologies affect our brains.

You can subscribe to the HumanTech podcast through iTunes, Stitcher, or where ever you listen to podcasts.

Episode 5: Consumers overvalue what they have, and that’s a problem.

Another derivative of what I call “ownership bias” is the difference between the willingness to accept money (WTA) and the willingness to pay money (WTP).

People exhibit ownership bias when there is something that they feel is theirs; that they own.

Let me take you on a quick mind-journey.

Your grandfather carefully cut, planed, jointed, and hand sanded a desk. He stained the wood by hand himself. He specifically picked white oak because of its beauty and desire for it to be enjoyed for generations to come. It’s perfect in every way. Solid, friendly, worn yet warm. Just like your grandpa.

Let me pop your mind-bubble. It’s worth about $250 in market value. It’s a worn, decently crafted, brown hardwood desk. Maybe it’s worth even less. Maybe $150. I’d probably lowball you for about $75. You would never part with such a treasured family item. That’s ownership bias.

What’s interesting is that this can happen on a much smaller scale, even as small as “gifting” you a pen. We’ll talk a lot more about ownership bias later, so I don’t want to get too carried away (it’s so fun though)!

Ownership bias is the first half of the willingness to accept/willingness to pay divide (spoiler!).

The second half is fear of loss.  Your old brain is afraid of losing resources. It yells at you to hoard, to not lose what you have.

When someone offers us money (which is basically an abstract construct), for something physical we have in our hand, we often overestimate the value of the thing in our hand because we don’t want to lose it.

Mash those two concepts together and what you get is this gap between the WTA and the WTP. To measure this, the typical experiment goes like this:

Half of the subjects are given an item, and then offered money to return it (willingness to accept).

Half of the subjects are asked to pay for the item (willingness to pay).

Researchers make a ratio (two numbers divided by each other) out of these, with WTA on the top (because it’s usually bigger), and WTP on the bottom. AKA, WTA/WTP.

For example, if your willingness to accept a deal for my grandfather’s desk is $600, but my willingness to pay is $200, the WTA/WTP ratio is 600/200 or 3:1 (aka, 3).

I won’t bore you with the details of a thousand studies about WTA and WTP. Fortunately, in A Review of WTA/WTP Studies Horowitz and McConnell did this for us! Thanks for that.

Beyond the fact that WTA is almost always higher than WTP for the reasons noted above, let me give you one more smart tid-bit that the researchers discovered, and I quote from the study:

“We find that the farther a good is from being an “ordinary private good”, the higher the ratio”.

So, the MORE unique an item is, the HIGHER the ratio between the willingness to accept (WTA) and the willingness to pay (WTP) is. The researchers found that non-ordinary goods have ratios that are usually about 6-8 points higher.

This makes sense. The imbalance between the willingness to accept and the willingness to pay is because when we own something we overvalue its worth to other people.

The more unique and special it is to us the higher we as humans will overvalue that product. You’re going to proportionally overvalue your grandfather’s desk far more than a cup of regular uncooked white rice (which is the most ordinary good I can imagine).

Let’s talk about real world practicality.

If you are in an industry that buys anything from consumers, you should understand that consumers will almost always overvalue what they have. It will cause them to be uncooperative in the face of reasonable market value deals.

Or, say, in the insurance world a customer would feel cheated because their grandfather’s desk was replaced by market value. They will feel as if the insurance company stiffed them even though that is not the case.

And conversely, if you want to make your customers feel like they have been given something valuable, give them something special they can own and treasure.


Horowitz, J. K., & McConnell, K. E. (2002). A Review of WTA/WTP Studies. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management44(3), 426-447. doi:10.1006/jeem.2001.1215

Steve Fleming-Prot: The Experience Of Designing An Experience

In this episode of the Human Tech podcast we talk with Steve Fleming-Prot. Steve has been designing complex user interfaces and experiences for decades and now is a Senior UX Research Consultant at User Testing.  In this episode we talk about the details of what happens when you are designing a user experience, and we also talk about his “conversion” from a moderated user tester to an unmoderated test planner.

Human Tech is a podcast at the intersection of humans, brain science, and technology. Your hosts Guthrie and Dr. Susan Weinschenk explore how behavioral and brain science affects our technologies and how technologies affect our brains.

You can subscribe to the HumanTech podcast through iTunes, Stitcher, or where ever you listen to podcasts.

Episode 4: How trying to avoid regret changes our behavior

Let’s talk about regret aversion. Again, fancy phrase, simple idea. Let’s go on a mind-journey!

Imagine this.

You’re at home cleaning out an old shoe box of junk. I mean, you’ve had this stuff forever since you were a kid. But do you really need that candy bar from 17 years ago that you’ve been keeping just to “see what happened in 10 years?” No. No you don’t.

You’re rifling through your items while sitting on the floor, and sifting things into keep or trash piles. Suddenly you spot under some papers a small pack of NBA basketball cards held together with a rubber band. Man! You’d forgotten that your uncle used to buy you these as a bribery present so you’d like him whenever he came to visit.

You did really like them though, so bribe accepted. You ponder that maybe you should be bribing your own nieces and nephews more. Nodding your head as you have learned another lesson about adulting, you pop the rubber band off and take a look to see what you’ve got. Boring. Retired. Meh. OH WOW! It’s a rookie Shaq card. What a find!

You of course know from your great NBA knowledge that Shaq exploded onto the NBA as a rookie, averaging 23 and 14 and instantly dragging the Orlando Magic into the realm of interestingness, only to leave for the Lakers like everyone else, casting Orlando back into uninterestingness until the disaster that was Dwight Howard a decade later.

But this card is worth money. You do some quick research online and find out that this card is actually part of a famous run by a famous brand, is really rare, and in very high demand. You get in touch with a dealer and you negotiate him up to $1,200 for the card. You’re worried you can get a better deal, but there’s no point in holding on to the card. And hey! You forgot you had it, it’s like finding a free $1200 right? It seems like a fair deal.

Full of confidence you pull the trigger and make the deal.

You get the deposit in your Paypal account and spend it to pay down some credit card debt. Sighhh. Life.

Not two weeks later you’re checking out the news on your favorite site and there’s a breaking news alert! OMG! Shaq tragically just passed away far too young. You can’t believe it and neither can anyone else. Memorials are held. Jerseys re-retired (and re-released), and memorabilia sales explode.

With baited breath you terrifyingly check the dealer’s website a few weeks later out of dread, and sure enough, there’s YOUR card, being resold by the dealer for over $13,000.


“Why did I sell that stupid thing! Ugh I knew I should have held onto it. I could have made so much money!” You feel pangs of regret, and have trouble relaxing for a day or two until you go to the gym a few times and play some video games to get it out of your system and let it go.

You have to stop watching all the Shaq memorial coverage. Too many bad memories about your card and what could have been (money).

So that’s regret. Regret aversion is simply the fear of this situation. It makes us doubt and  second guess ourselves. We try really hard to avoid these feelings of regret (that’s the aversion part). There many types of regret, and some types of regret are stronger than others.

A study done by Seiler, Seiler, Traub and Harrison called “Regret aversion and false reference points in residential real estate” tried to test for regret aversion. They did so with simple questions where subjects were asked to assess their regret on a scale of 1 to 9, with 1 being low, and 9 a high level of regret.

The hypothetical situation the subjects were given was that they “purchased” a home for $200k five years ago. Today it’s worth $300k. That’s great news, right? There were two conditions, with half the people in each.

The first condition is “omission”. In the “omission” condition the participants find out that two years ago they could have sold the house for $350k, but were not aware of the potential sale at the time.

The second condition is “commission”. In the “commission” condition they knew two years ago that they could have sold the house for $350k, but believed the price would keep going up and did not pull the trigger.

In both conditions they still made the same amount of money ($100k). Their happiness with the sale should be the same, right?

Well, overall, people in the “commission” condition who could have sold the house, but chose not to, had statistically significant higher levels of regret than those in the “omission” condition who were unaware of a potential sale (4.69 regret vs. 5.08 with knowledge).

The bottom line is that people feel more regret when they lost something but feel like they had the control to make a different decision.

To a certain extent this is part of the fear of loss which I will talk about a lot more. But fear of loss manifests in many different ways, and this is just one of them.

Even though the end result is the same, learning that we could have made more money, but that we messed up, made a mistake, and sold at the wrong time, feels worse.

If we had no control over the situation and did not know that we had the option to sell the house at a higher price, then we can shrug and say “It was fate. I’m not responsible; Jesus take the wheel.”

It’s an act of god and out of our hands, we never lost what we could never have achieved. But when we had it in our hands, but then lost it because of our own mistakes; that’s troubling.

When we mess up we feel regret aversion. The next time we have to make a decision, we don’t want to make any decision. We freeze because we’re scared of making the wrong choice. Of selling a week too soon, or a day too late.

Like everything else in the 100, this is one of those peculiarities that causes us humans to make decisions and choices that are not the most logical or predicted by a computer. It’s not a simple sum choice utility function. It’s complex weird primate brains.

So let’s talk real world implications.

You can drive action by stimulating people’s fear of loss. Businesses do this all the time (the deal ends in 4 hours! better buy now).

For example, if you want to make people more cautious about selling stocks, send them alerts about all the times they could have sold their stocks for more money, but now it’s worth less. This strategy might actually cause them to switch partners, so maybe it’s something to avoid, but it certainly would stimulate a fear of loss.

Giving people information, so they have the decision in their hands, and then mess it up, will stimulate more regret aversion.  It’s certainly a tool in your arsenal that you should consider using when needed.

Give it a try! Did you find any difference? This is an especially tricky one to test because it is so specific, and also occurs over a period of time. But it’s fascinating to discuss.


Seiler, M., Seiler, V., Traub, S., & Harrison, D. (2008). Regret aversion and false reference points in residential real estate. Journal of Real Estate Research, 30(4), 461–474.

Helle Martens From Copenhagen On The Human Tech Podcast

Image result for danish party bike

In this episode of the Human Tech podcast we talk with Helle Martens, a User Experience (UX) consultant from Copenhagen. Our discussion includes the UX Copenhagen conference, why behavioral science has a hard time getting traction in UX communities, and the bicycle culture in Denmark, including “party bikes” and “beer bikes” (see images above and below).

To find out more about the UX Copenhagen conference and/or to contact Helle, check out the UX Copenhagen website.


Conference Bike

Human Tech is a podcast at the intersection of humans, brain science, and technology. Your hosts Guthrie and Dr. Susan Weinschenk explore how behavioral and brain science affects our technologies and how technologies affect our brains.

You can subscribe to the HumanTech podcast through iTunes, Stitcher, or where ever you listen to podcasts.

A Conversation With Lou Rosenfeld: Design Ops, What Makes A Great Conference, Information Architecture…

Logo for HumanTech podcastLou Rosenfeld publishes books, is the author of the famous “polar bear” book on information architecture (IA), and organizes conferences. He joins us on this HumanTech podcast episode and the conversation goes from library science to IA to conferences, to “Design Ops” and more!

Links for some of the things we talk about:

Human Tech is a podcast at the intersection of humans, brain science, and technology. Your hosts Guthrie and Dr. Susan Weinschenk explore how behavioral and brain science affects our technologies and how technologies affect our brains.

You can subscribe to the HumanTech podcast through iTunes, Stitcher, or where ever you listen to podcasts.

Episode 3: Why something being FREE is so compelling

Everyone loves free. There’s something truly magical about getting something that you value for free and the feeling seems universal.

In another post I’ll talk about why we feel indebted when we get something for free, but for now, I want to focus on the feeling of free. If we want it; we take it. It’s almost like a compulsion; a quick little burst of joy like the pure thought of a child. Here is a thing I wish to possess, and with no effort at all, I simply can possess it. Pure joy. Let me take you on a mind-journey to that feeling.

Imagine I walk up to your desk right now and place in front of you a delicate piece of your favorite candied dessert in the entire world, carefully wrapped in a small square of brown paper wrapper. It sits there perfectly. You reach down, pick it up, and eat it, savoring every second. Is it indulgent chocolate? Smooth and silky dairy crème? Lush strawberry? Fluffy sponge cake?

I encourage you to rate your feelings of joy on a scale of 1-10. Now clear your mind of that fun escape. Picture a paper clip on some sand. Okay, clear? Let’s go on another mind journey.

Imagine I walk up to your desk right now and place in front of you a delicate piece of your favorite candy in the entire world, carefully wrapped in a small square of brown paper wrapper. It sits there perfectly. I look at you and say: “Hi, I am selling this piece of candy. It’s small so I’m going to charge you $.01. If you’d like to purchase it, I only take cash. However, I see that you have a small stack of pennies on your desk so change should be no problem. Would you like to purchase it?”

Think about your decision. Would you pay a penny for the candy? How are you feeling? Are you feeling joy? Even if you did decide to purchase the candy and eat it, which would be amazing, I bet the feeling of pure joy about the transaction was lost or at least greatly diminished. If there was joy it felt different somehow. It was less pure joy and more the happiness and satisfaction of getting a good deal.

To us humans, free feels different somehow, and sure enough, it causes us to act differently too.

In Zero as a Special Price: The True Value of Free Products, a research paper by Shampanier, Mazar, and Ariely, the researchers explored different people’s reaction to encountering free with a series of clever experiments.

Subjects were given a choice between two pieces of chocolate. One was “cheap” (Hershey’s), the other was “expensive” (Lindt or Ferrero Rocher).  The experimenters played around with offering different prices to different people. Importantly, the expensive chocolate was always exactly more ($.25 more in the first experiment) than the cheap offering.

Here are the results:

The column on the left entitled “2 & 27” shows what happened when the researchers set the prices at $.02 for the Hershey’s bar and $.27 for the Ferrero Rocher. 45% chose the cheaper Hershey’s, 40% chose the more expensive Ferrero, and 15% chose nothing.

The column in the middle has the results for when the prices were $.01, and $.26. The results are about the same with a little bit of variance which is expected. The difference in price is still $.25 between the two candies.

The column on the right entitled “0 & 25” is the free condition (free and $.25). There is a huge shift when the price was free. 90% went with the free option and only 10% went for the Ferrero.

But there should be no difference between the different prices! You’re paying $.25 more for the expensive candy in any of the three conditions, and yet way more people choose the cheap candy when it is free vs. $.01. Somehow making it free makes it more valuable or desirable.

But what about transaction costs you might ask? Maybe people like free because the $.01 condition has a hidden cost; the cost of the transaction itself (aka, the pain and hassle of paying).

The researchers smartly accounted for this. They set up a real-world experiment where the chocolate choice was made at the checkout of a cafeteria. Everyone was already going to swipe their credit card. As you can see, there are similar results (although more people in the real world choose neither).


The left column entitled “1 & 14” is the condition when both the Hershey’s and Lindt (this time) candies were not free ($.01 and $.14 respectively for a $.13 difference). Only 8% chose the cheap Hershey’s option, and 30% chose the expensive Lindt option.

The right column entitled “0 & 13” is the free condition. Again, the difference between the expensive and cheap candies is $.13. But once the cheap product is free there a huge increase in the percentage of people who choose the free candy over the more expensive candy.

In sum, in real world tests after accounting for transaction costs, the “value” of making something free is a +387% increase in sales of the free product (8% to 31% of marketshare), and a -230% decrease in sales of its competitor (30% to 13%).

So, let’s talk about some real-world implications. Do you need to destroy the subjective value of a competitor’s offering? Do you need to get a foothold in a market? Use free. And it may seem intuitive, but there’s a good reason why.

The leading theory (which is not yet proven, but makes sense) is that there is a brain science reason behind this. When you present a brain with a buy/not buy decision the brain lights up with activity. There are certain pathways in the brain that evaluate decision factors, determine preferences, and decide if you should make the purchase. Even at $.01 the neural pathways are activated in the same way as if you buy a more expensive item.

But at truly free, the brain uses an entirely different neural pathway. Instead of the “buy” neural pathway, it takes a deeper (mid-brain) pathway that involves feelings and emotions. These pathways determine if you want the item instead of if the item is valuable enough to justify a purchase.

Emotional pathways are processed more quickly. The quicker process feels like the right decision, and is easier to make, making you feel better about it.

Perhaps the “want/not want” pathways are emotionally stronger because the decision is being processed literally closer in the brain to where emotions are processed (mid-brain).

Or perhaps going through a value based buy decision drags up negative emotions because of the sadness of spending money.

Regardless of the reason, the theory is that because free is a different neurological pathway, it feels better and more valuable. Therefore, far more people choose the free item.

Thinking is hard and humans really hate doing it.

Have you seen this effect at work in your own projects? If not try it and see what happens. Again, make sure it is truly free otherwise your mileage may vary.

For example, having a price of 0, but requiring that users fill out their contact information isn’t really free. Other transactional “work” can dampen the effect. Give it a try!



Shampanier, K., Mazar, N., & Ariely, D. (2007). Zero as a Special Price: The True Value of Free Products. Marketing Science26(6), 742-757. doi:10.1287/mksc.1060.0254