My CXL Institute Scholarship Journey; Cognitive Biases and More.


This week on my CXL Institute journey on Digital Psychology and Persuasion, I will be further reviewing modules under people on psychology. They are;

1. Cognitive biases and how we are all affected by them,

2. Emotional and rational decision making,

3. How people view websites.

Without much further ado, let’s dive straight in.

1. Cognitive Biases — We are All Affected By Them.

Cognitive biases are tendencies to think in certain ways. As optimizers, we need to be aware of the kinds of biases that exist, and that we and our target users might be affected by.

However, there is a bias called Bias blind spot: the tendency to see oneself as less biased than other people or to be able to identify more cognitive biases in others than in oneself. In other words, you think you are not affected by any bias or less than other people.

Some of the more common biases faced are:

a. False-Consensus Bias: You think the world is like you

It is the tendency for people to overestimate the degree to which others agree with them. You have your opinions and you think everyone’s on board with you — except they’re probably not.

Consensus such as; “Everyone hates mega menus”, “Who would want to eat that?”, “Nobody clicks on ads”.

People tend to assume that other people have the same opinions and preferences they do. This can be subtle, and it can be extreme, but it puts all small group feedback into question. It can be very subtle, but in general, you need to take individual feedback very delicately. Everyone is going to look at things with their individual biases, and not understand that others see things differently.

This teaches us never to assume that people; especially target users of a website you’re working on.

b. The Curse of Knowledge

You cannot unknow what you know. If you know everything there is to know about family law, you think about the matter way differently than somebody who is uninformed. You cannot put yourself in their shoes anymore, you have the curse of knowledge.

Once you know something, it is impossible for you to unknow it. If you added new buttons or links onto the website, you cannot analyse the site like a user, trying to figure out whether people will see the button or not. You know it is there. Therefore, best practice suggests you ask someone else to look at the page.

c. Anchoring

Anchoring is a cognitive bias that describes the common human tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information offered when making decisions. During decision making, anchoring occurs when individuals use an initial piece of information to make subsequent judgments.

You might be obsessed with testing static images against sliders on the home page, or trying tens of versions of the call to action buttons; thinking that’s where the problem is since you saw that mentioned in user testing. Sometimes you can optimize locally, but to increase your conversions more, you need a radical change. If you are anchored, you are limited by that initial piece of data( the local change) and might never try a radical redesign.

d. Egocentric Bias

This bias about recalling the past in a self-serving manner. For example, remembering one’s exam grades as being better than they were, or remembering a caught fish as bigger than it was. Or remembering all the conversions gains from last year.

e. Recency Bias

This cognitive error tricks you into preferring fresh data over older data. An example is searching out a though, however, preferring the new school of thought on the subject matter over old ones. You may or may not have made the best decision. Newer is not always better.

f. Selective Perception

Expectations affect perceptions. This is critical in qualitative research: the way you phrase questions will affect the responses. Leading people rather than leaving them to their perception is not a good practice.

g. Confirmation Bias

People tend to test things that confirm their beliefs.

They have a hypothesis “This form is just too small” so they test making it bigger, and if it is successful by a small bit, they have their feelings confirmed. However, maybe making the form even smaller would increase conversions. Maybe it was not the form size at all, but a much larger factor was the image above the form or the colour of the text.

The confirmation bias makes people try and reinforce their ideas, which is not always the best result.

Best practice suggests you always question the objective in this regard.

h. Congruence Bias

It is the tendency to test hypotheses exclusively through direct testing, instead of testing possible alternative hypotheses.

You research the website and come up with a hypothesis as to how to improve conversions and you test it. By doing that you are not testing an alternative hypothesis that could bring bigger wins.

If you have a hypothesis for what to test, try to come up with multiple alternative hypotheses, as different as possible, and then try and find a way to test BOTH.

i. Clustering Illusion

The clustering illusion is the tendency to erroneously perceive small samples from random distributions to have significant “streaks” or “clusters”, caused by a human tendency to underpredict the amount of variability likely to appear in a small sample of random or semi-random data due to chance.

In other words, you think you spotted a trend — and base all your optimization and hypotheses off that trend. But for a fact, it was not significant at all, but a small sample. Just because there is a similarity, does not mean there is a pattern.

This is critical to be aware of when doing conversion research, especially qualitative — you think you see a trend and start looking for it, ignoring other, often more valuable nuggets of information.

2. Emotional and Rational Decision Making.

People make decisions using both. Emotional side often wins, but people justify their decisions rationally, often without even being aware of it. Businesses who understand biological programming, and can leverage it, possess an enormous advantage.

Decision making is not logical

A few years ago, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio made a groundbreaking discovery. He studied people with damage in the part of the brain where emotions are generated. He found that they seemed normal, except that they were not able to feel emotions. But they all had something peculiar in common: they could not make decisions.

They could describe what they should be doing in logical terms, yet they found it very difficult to make even simple decisions, such as what to eat. Many decisions have pros and cons on both sides — shall I have the chicken or the turkey? With no rational way to decide, these test subjects were unable to arrive at a decision.

So, at the point of decision, emotions are very important for choosing. Even with what we believe are logical decisions, the very point of choice is arguably always based on emotion.

Key learnings:

- People like to think they are rational, but they are not

- Product images can have a huge effect on emotional decision-making

Best Practices

a. Sell to the “old brain”

The old brain is very emotional, and the key to emotional sales is selling to the reptilian brain. You must create a vision for prospects to bring about the decision on their part. In the end, people will decide because they want to. Avoid telling people what to think or what’s best. You help them discover for themselves what feels right and best and most advantageous to them by presenting your case using contrast and simple, tangible language and demonstration.

Their ultimate decision is based on self-interest. That’s emotional. “I want this. This is good for me”. Remember, the old brain is selfish.

b. Serve both emotional and rational

When we are selling a product, we need to make a compelling emotional and rational case. They should be able to fall in love with it emotionally and justify it rationally.

Therefore, it is best to lead with emotional and inspirational content: large images, aspirational headlines. Emotional decision making dominates, so it’s critical to lead with that. Once they have decided that they want it, people want to be able to justify the purchase. Hence, back everything up with specifics, so they can rationalize the decision.

3. How People View Websites

Eye-tracking and research have studied how people look at websites. We would be highlighting below the insights gotten:

a. The top left corner gets the attention first.

When users land on your site, their eye path starts from the upper left corner and moves on from there in a zig-zag manner till it gets to the bottom right corner. According to a Poynter study, these areas get the most attention; the top left and the bottom right corners.

Introducing the Gutenberg diagram. It describes a general pattern the eyes move through when looking at usually text-heavy content. It fits this zoning conclusion pretty well, except for the bottom right area.

The fourth, bottom right terminal area is where you should place your call to action. However, note that this is not some universal truth, but a good starting point.

b. People read in F-patterns

Most people don’t read, but scan. A 2008 study concluded that on average only 28% of the text is read. Eye-tracking visualizations show that users often read website content in an F-shaped pattern: two horizontal stripes followed by a vertical stripe.

This is why you want your value proposition in the top and why your menu should be either top horizontal or on the left, vertical.

Key propositions for yielding results

- Use visibly bigger introductory paragraphs for improved attention

Make introductory paragraphs in boldface or larger font size. When the test subjects encountered a story with a boldface introductory paragraph, 95 per cent of them viewed all or part of it.

Every Smashing Magazine article starts with a quick summary. Keep the paragraph line lengths short and in a single column; that’s how people are used to reading text.

- The font that you use does not matter. Oh, and people like links; the number of clicks on

the links go up as you add more links.

c. People won’t look past the first search results

If you are not in the top 2 or 3 in Google for a keyword, you are losing out. In an eye-tracking study by Google, most users found what they were looking for among the first two results and they never needed to go further down the page.

As it is increasingly harder to get the top spots, using long-tail keyword strategy is very important. The left side of the page gets more attention than the right

With some exceptions, people read from left to right. This is also why the left side of your webpage gets more attention.

Web users spend 69% of their time viewing the left half of the page and 30% viewing the right half. A conventional layout is thus more likely to make sites profitable.

If you have a vertical menu, put it on the left. Navigation placed at the top of a homepage, however, performs best; seen by the highest percentage of test subjects and looked at for the longest duration, but it comes with a size limitation.

Key Propositions

- Use high quality, large images

Image quality is a significant factor in drawing attention. People in pictures facing forward is more inviting and approachable.

Fuzzy, small images are less inviting as are big glamour shots. Nielsen said the eye-tracking study also surfaced a counter-intuitive finding–people who look like models are less likely to draw attention than normal people.

“A call centre ad with a model in it on the phone may be a good picture technically, but it will more likely be ignored,” Nielsen said. Images appearing unneeded, at least peripherally, will be tuned out. Avoid cheesy stock photos.

d. Dominant headlines draw the eye

Big headlines most often draw the eye first upon entering the page; especially when they are in the upper left corner. Present a whole value proposition with the headline. Also, keep in mind that clarity trumps persuasion.

When you list a bunch of headlines on a page, most often it is the left sides of the headlines that get the attention. People typically scan down a list of headlines and often don not view entire headlines. If the first words engage them, they seem likely to read on.

On average, a headline has less than a second of a site visitor’s attention. This means that the first couple of words of the headline need to be real attention-grabbers if you want to draw attention.

Here is where we draw the curtain on this week’s edition of my CXL Institute Scholarship journey. Stay tuned, stay enlightened.

A digital marketing specialist.