Research: Our Web Browsing Habits Have Prehistoric Roots

Humans are very specific in their needs. The less we have to work for something, the more spoiled we become. However, not all of our seemingly arrogant demands are the product of ignorance. The need for control, for example, has been rooted in our subconscious since the Stone Age.

Liraz Margalit, PhD, is resident psychologist at ClickTale. According to Margalit, our need for control has a subconscious impact on everything we do. And that includes web browsing.

No one likes a ‘pushy’ product

Dr. Margalit recently worked with a major publication (whose name was not divulged for obvious reasons) to analyze customer behavior on their website. The organization was reportedly trying to push video by playing it automatically as the page was loading. Most people consider this jarring. When video and audio both jump at you unexpectedly, this promotes stress responses in the brain. These stress responses come from loss of control, according to Dr. Margalit.

“The video in question was slick and well designed, and its content was interesting. But there was one aspect the organization hadn’t considered – when a visitor comes to a website planning to read the news but sound and video suddenly jump out at them, the effect is jarring. It makes readers feel they have lost control.”

So what people do is either hit the pause button, or close the tab altogether, walking away from the website. Needless to say, this is the last thing any online publication wants.

Blame prehistoric man

The user’s negative response is further justified by what psychologists call “the expectation factor.” If you go to a place and it’s the complete opposite of what you’d imagined, you start to feel a loss of control, anxiety, a sense of betrayal even. The same thing happens during web browsing, when you end up on a site that’s way below your standards.

Dr. Margalit says this behavior can be traced all the way back to when we lived in caves. The explanation is as simple as it is logical. Unexpected sounds or visuals mostly meant danger back then. The early humans devised an excessive precaution mechanism to ensure survival. So when the bushes moved unexpectedly, the human instantly went into alert mode. This trait has been preserved to this day.

Photo by Robert Koorenny on Unsplash

UX matters

It’s very important to give users not just the product they’re after, but also the experience they seek to obtain through that product, whether it’s a car, a smartphone, food at a restaurant, software, or a website. Improving UX with pure science is a clear testament that you care not just about your customers, but your business too. This research sets an example for any organization struggling to gain visibility in the crowded online space.

If there’s one crude idea we can extract from the research, it’s this: an unsatisfied client doesn’t linger. Take away their sense of control over the experience, and they’ll take their business to your competitors.

Post A Reply