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Why did you click on this?

Humans have a tendency to preserve energy, this is especially true when it comes to exploring the web in modern times. For the early humans scrounging for food meant the energy expended in finding the food should not exceed the power provided by the food. Conversely, we click on a link which requires the least amount of energy or as is called the association of least resistance. People also choose links which are placed on positions that spend less energy, these items are usually placed at the top of any list. This is known as the primacy effect. Typically, people click on a link which catches their attention or matches their focal point of curiosity and impulsivity. Motivation is another factor which plays an essential role in driving people to click on a link. An aesthetically pleasing source will provide more inspiration for the person in question to determine its relation with usability.

Discussing usability, how annoyed do you get when you have to wait for your phone to load a particular application? When there is a long wait in the interaction between the computer response and the user, there is a higher chance for the person to avoid using it. Psychologist Fitts (1954) also talked about keeping interactive buttons or targets (such as applications seen in mobiles) large to prevent the error from touching the desired option. At this point, you may be wondering how the article you’re reading is related to mental health?

For the sake of argument, let’s say this article is a product and you are a consumer. If this is the case, then I’m trying to pitch you the theme, and if you read till the end, I’ll consider myself sufficiently adept at this. However, rather than focusing more on the article, let’s focus on why you’ll stick around for this, shall we?

I haven’t met you, but I’m still trying to understand you for the purpose of my product. Your interest depends upon the experience I provide you or how you perceive this article to be in the present moment. What I’m talking about is called user experience (UX), which utilizes the emotions, feelings, thought and attitudes of people like yourself towards a particular product or service. As you are reading this article, you are communicating with a computer which will modify your experience concerning what you click on, view or read. Not only is this article engaging with you cognitively, but in effect as well, while taking you on an experiential endeavour.

We, humans, love to make sense and extract coherence out of every event. Our minds work to create schemas which find relationships between objects. There is a similar response when you perceive various stimuli and identify the pattern between them. There is a reason why apps are clustered together; Gestalt psychologists mention some principles based on which we find ways: proximity, similarity, continuity, closure, and connectedness. As you’re reading this article, you’re probably trying to make some sense of it too. But as useful as this sounds consider how something made to benefit your experience may work out the worst outcome for you.

Imagine Instagram and how fluid the endless scrolling is. However, it takes moments to go from five minutes to a whole hour of scrolling due to the efficient layout making it addictive. Although the user experience is impeccable, the goal of the application is to maximize your screen time, and it employs the knowledge about your psyche to do this. Now if you remember some points mentioned above, you’ll be able to relate how these principles are used to make an application more effective to compel people to click on it. Notifications cue the release of dopamine in your body and make you more compulsive to get that hit. Remember someone liking or commenting on your post and recall the feeling of rush that you felt, that’s dopamine which is a highly addictive hormone but sadly doesn’t last very long making one as susceptible to it like a smoker is to tobacco.

Consider another rampant example of Netflix, I’m sure you would’ve heard of “Social Dilemma” a documentary which talks about the ills of technology today and how it uses the people against themselves. It pushes forward the notion of how free will is diminishing, and people are becoming slaves to external stimuli like social media. Amusingly, Netflix in itself is a media outlet which suggests people content based on their likes and views; now go back to the primacy effect which states that any stimuli which appear on the top of the list are more likely to be clicked because it expends less energy. Guess what Netflix was suggesting at the top of its lists? Social Dilemma. Does it seem ironic that a platform which works on the same principle is trying to rat out its own function? A graver realization from this is how your click feeds into their operating system, making it smarter.

So if you’re still here reading this article, then that means I’ve successfully sold my product. But again, why did you click on this?

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