The Psychology of UX: Part 5

Exciting news! The first half of ‘The Psychology of UX’ series has been published in Methods & Tools September issue. Please go check it out.

Welcome back to The Psychology of UX series. Today we are going to be focusing on how humans are social. Let’s get started!

Humans beings are social animals.

We are fundamentally driven by the need to belong and to have the approval of our peers. This urge to connect is at our core because of its ability to raise our chances of survival. When we act in accordance with the beliefs, suggestions and commands of the collective, it helps us to reach our goals, including the most primal of sustenance and shelter. Since the nomadic times, when we began hunting in our immediate families we quickly learned that joining forces and hunting together in larger groups meant bigger kills and greater chances of avoiding hunger.

“Humans are social animals and the urge to connect is basic survival, practically, emotionally, and genetically.”

Pamela Rutledge, Ph.D.

For over 100,000 years, we have traded and exchanged between groups in order to draw upon other’s specialisation and raise each other’s living standards.

We all know little bits of information, but none of us know everything.

Through exchange, we’ve surpassed our own knowledge, creating the ability for us to do things that we (individually) can’t even comprehend. For instance, we all know what a toaster is.. but how many of us can fashion one entirely on our own? We’d need to know how to drill for oil, how to make plastic, how to wire electrics, how to create heating elements, how to create screws, how to extract and melt metal, and the list goes on.

In order for humanity to evolve, it’s not important how intelligent the individual is, but how well we communicate and cooperate as a people. By evolving to communicate and have language, we became even more connected and increased our chances of survival.

We could warn each other of danger, guide each other and share wisdom. But with this ability to speak, also came the need to be heard.

Humans want to be heard

…in order to share emotions and ideas, and to have these emotions and ideas validated. We look for guidance from others on what we should do and how we should act. This has always been and will always be the case.

“It’s a basic element of humanity to want to be heard. Communication has evolved to where it is today because people fundamentally want to communicate. And not just communicate for its own sake, but to be heard and validated. If that weren’t the case we wouldn’t have Twitter and Facebook.”

Brad Waters, Psychology Today

Another way that we learned to cooperate was through imitation. When we observe someone doing an activity, our brain has ‘mirror neurons’ that mimic the activity as if we were doing it ourselves. Through this imitation we quickly learn new skills and behaviours, from birth all the way through adulthood.

Humans are undoubtedly social beings and because of this we will always use technology to be social as a form of self-expression. If we look at the history of the internet, we can see how this happened as the internet itself was intended for military purposes but evolved to connect the world socially. Since its birth, this happened over and over again, from IRC to BBS systems to SixDegrees and Friendster and Myspace; to Geocities, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, Flickr and Facebook. We have adapted the internet to speak our language; a language of interconnectedness and sharing.

Today, nearly four out of five web users visits a social networking site on a monthly basis. Twitter estimates that it has at least 325 million users every 24 hours. Facebook claims that its users spend over 700 billion minutes on the site each month.

“I already know what it’s going to say, it’s going to tell me how great their product is. Why would I need to read that? If I want to know the truth, I have to read what other people like me thought about it.”

‘Designing for the Social Web’, Josh Porter

Users look at other people’s experiences with the product and find guidance on whether or not to invest in it themselves, thus learning from our shared experiences and knowledge.

But how does all of this affect UX?

From the initial stages of the UX research, we can see the importance of user observation based on our skill of mimicry. By observing a user in person, our brains imitate their actions allowing us to better comprehend the activities they partake in. This strengthens our understanding of their needs and task flows, and allows us to create solutions with greater empathy and clarity of the problem.

When it comes to designing the UX, we need to take into consideration the necessity for a social outlet within our website or application. Allow for greater social interconnectedness in your designs so that people can go to each other for guidance and advice within your application, such as with ratings, reviews, news and forums. Allow users to forge helpful relationships, be it with similar users or with customer support. Give people an awareness of the size of the community they operate in to give them a sense of belonging as well as the choice of where they want to fit in within the community by establishing their profile.

Social Nature Brings Innovation

Thanks to the social nature of humans and all of the connections people have been making through the use of technology, we have invented and evolved more tools in the past 100 years, than we did in a million years back in our hunter-gatherer days with the design evolution of our hand tools.

Today everyone is able to have their ideas and allow them to be shared on a global scale. It is because of this that we as a people are accelerating our rate of innovation, and we should encourage this in every way we can.

…So don’t feel too bad if your boss catches you on Facebook at work. Tell him/her you are satisfying a core human need.

Check out these interesting related videos for more:


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