The five must-know psychological experiments and how they can help you in designing a website.

Websites are not only about design and development. Some basic knowledge of human psychology can be useful as well! Let’s take a look into a few examples of experiments that can be helpful in our job.



#1 Smoke Test


Imagine you are in a store and you see two identical products. Each of them was made by different manufacturers, which is the only difference between them. The price is also similar. One of the products happens to have been produced by a well-known company and the second one is a product of some random no-name brand. Which one would you choose? Most people would choose the well-known one. But what if some other random client approached you and recommended the no-name product claiming that he uses it and is very happy with his purchase?


In 1970 Bibb Latae and John Darley ran an experiment. A subject was invited into a room on the pretext of completing a survey. The room was full of incognito researchers.

After some time, smoke was let into the room. Researches reacted to the appearing smoke in one of the appointed ways. Either they reacted to a pretended fire or completely ignored it. Subjects observed other people’s reactions and followed their behavior – if everyone ignored the smoke, so did they.

On the internet this mechanism takes the form of ratings and reviews. If we hesitate to make certain decisions, we follow other people’s recommendations and opinions. It doesn’t matter if we know them or not. The more we identify with the reviewer (same age, sex, interests), the more we get influenced by his opinion.


Tip: If you cannot count on the massive recommendation effect for your company yet, put some testimonials on the website.



#2 Schindler’s List vs. The Muppet Show


In 2008 Marieke de Vries ran an examination, during which she showed the movie Schindler’s List to one group and The Muppet Show to the second one. Next, she asked all participants to rate and choose products offered by some company. They were also told to complete a survey about their decision making style (intuition or considered choice). As it turned out, people rate the products better if they are able to make decisions consistent with their style. If they are in a bad mood, they are more likely to appreciate the advantages of the product when they have some time to make up their minds. If they are forced to make their decision quickly, they will rate the products positively if they are in a good mood.


Tip: Improve your recipients’ mood using appropriate visualisation, music or video clip on your website, especially if your products are usually bought impulsively. If your offer is being precisely analyzed by your clients, provide them with sufficient information to help them make their decisions. Even bad mood won’t make them less likely to rate it favorably. The following experiment is related to this occurence.

–> What kind of elements are desirable on websites? Check out here.<–


#3 The Jam Test


When we have many options to choose from, our ability to make decision decreases. In 2000 Sheena Iyengar ran a research during which she acted as if she was a shop assistant in a supermarket. She offered 6 types of jam samples and later increased the number of products to 24. People approaching the sample stand only tried some types, no matter if there were 6 or 24 types to choose from, though. People are able to memorize 3-4 things at once and make choice between that number of options. When the hostess offered 6 instead of 24 kinds of jams, sales were 10 times higher. Still, the variety of choice and information overflow are addictive. People like the possibility of having a wide range of products to choose from, but it is not in our interest.


Tip: Though access to a lot of information can be beneficial in some kinds of trade, it is suggested to avoid giving users and clients too many options to choose from. If your offer is based on more than 3-4 options, try separating them into several steps.



#4 Clothes don’t make the man, but they do make the website


It might sound trivial, but many people don’t realise it. In 2004 Elizabeth Sillence conducted an examination on the importance of layout and look of websites. 84% of subjects recognized websites as not trustworthy only because of their appearance. Still, the content of web pages seemed important when it came to choosing the believable ones. It’s worth mentioning that people decide whether a  page is authentic or not in just seconds. First impression is the key moment. If a user doesn’t become biased against particular website at the beginning, he starts to judge it by its content.


Tip: Visual elements such as colour, font, layout or navigation elements can scare off users, even if the website’s content quality is very high. That’s why sticking to the UX guidelines is really important.

–>Learn about why your business model infulence UX your website/application<–


#5 Phone vs. Walking Experiment


A lot of people claim that they have a divided attention and are able to do several activities at once. Unfortunately, scientists speak with one voice about those claims being no more than just bragging. Long-period researches prove that people can do no more than one mental activity in particular moment. Admittedly, some people are proficient at quick switching between several activities and that occurrence may create an illusion of multitasking. Additionally, those people are more likely to make mistakes. There’s an exception to that rule, though. A physical activity, which we are very familiar with (e.g. walking) can be performed independently and without thinking. But even in this case Ira Hyman observed in 2009 that people talking on the phone while walking are more likely to bump into other people and tend to miss the things happening around them. They literally haven’t noticed a colourful clown on unicycle riding nearby.

clown experiment

Tip: Check if your website isn’t overloaded with distracting elements. Make sure that the user is occupied with one activity at a time on your website. If it’s not possible, expect mistakes.


Is your website trendy? Check it here.


Anna Fuks
Communications Manager at PrimeModule

5 thoughts on “The five must-know psychological experiments and how they can help you in designing a website.

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  2. Thank you for all positive opinions and sharing. We invite you to follow us on twitter as well!

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