In recent times, there has been a lot of interest in the interaction between UX and user psychology, or what we also refer to as behavioural science. The design community is paying more attention to getting a better understanding of user behaviour/ psychology. And as we will see, it has a far-reaching impact on design, especially UX design.

During #COVID19, users constantly tracked corona cases within their area in 2020 – 2022. Behavioural Science played a very important role in deciding on the functionality of the app during pandemic.

At a primary level, a UX engineer is concerned with practical aspects of the design like usability, accessibility, usefulness, discoverability, etc. Once these aspects have been taken care of, the engineer/ developer is concerned with the next very important feature: user engagement. Oftentimes, such engagement is evaluated through parameters like user frequency and the time the user spends on the app/ website. And that is where the field of behavioural science comes into play. 

Thought Leaders in Behavioural Science

An important thought leader and innovator in the space of behavioural science was B.F. Skinner. He was able to demonstrate many facets of human behaviour by conducting experiments in his lab. One of his most important theories – which was a result of such experiments – was the principle of variable rewards. When a user doesn’t know what to expect upon completion of a task, variable rewards are said to occur. This phenomenon is crucial in driving human behaviour and engagement.

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As Skinner demonstrated in his lab, it is possible to have mice behave in a certain way to receive rewards, i.e., food. Like humans and other animals, mice could also identify patterns, causes and effects which can lead to a given predictable outcome. In this case, he taught the mice to pull a lever to get food. This process is called Reinforcement – driving home the fact that a certain action will attract a certain reward. A real-life instance is a reward programme by a company whereby the purchase of its products will be accompanied with a free gift, or upon buying additional units of the product, the customer gets rewarded. The more the purchases, the higher the reward. 

This blog gives greater insight into the scientific evaluation of how users interact with interfaces. The best example is given by the founder of the behaviour design lab, B.J.Fogg is, user behaviour is a combination of Motivation, Ability and Trigger.

– Kishor Fogla

Both Reinforcement as well as the Principle of Variable Rewards are very important for the purpose of UX design. The idea is to train users to behave in certain ways which result in outcomes that are predictable. This is a practical application of reinforcement in design. But once these patterns (and the outcome) are established, it has been seen that most users become so used to it that they reduce any superfluous activity. There is hardly anything new or unexpected. And in some cases, this is expected, where the menus and navigation needs to be consistent and predictable, leading to consistent outcomes every single time. This helps in allowing the user to perform their tasks or achieve their goals with relative ease.

Having said that, a UX designer/ developer has another very critical objective – to drive user engagement. This can be achieved either by increasing user frequency or time spent. Again, behavioural science comes into the picture to enhance the UX by increasing engagement. How? The Principle of Variable Rewards by B.F. Skinner says that users will interact better when the rewards are unpredictable/ variable. This is particularly evident in the UX design of social media platforms – when the user opens the platforms, they are unsure what they’ll get: whether their posts did get some likes, what kind of comments they’re receiving, what kind of posts they will witness on their feed, etc. It’s a different experience each time, regardless of the fact that it is the same platform. This scores in both the aspects of engagement – user frequency and time spent. The UX developer has to incorporate delightful and variable content from various sources. If the user base is not big enough to fall back on user generated content, content may be curated from other sources to keep it fresh everytime. 

Here’s a framework that determines how a behavioural pattern or principle can be applied to UX Design:

One of the most interesting and notable behavioural change models that have a direct impact on the UX designing process is that of B.J. Fogg, the founder of Behaviour Design Lab at Stanford University. 

Behavioural Science in UX Design : Fogg Behavior Model

According to Fogg’s model, Behaviour is driven by a combination of three important elements: Motivation, Ability and Trigger. 

Fogg's Behavioural Formula

Motivation is what makes people take a decision or behave in a certain way. This motivation may not be overt. Sometimes, certain attitudes or drives which are implicit, also push the user to behave in a particular manner. This is useful in UX design to affect behaviour in certain predictable ways.

The question to be asked by the UX designer in this case is – what are the needs of the user, and how can they be met? Does the value proposition of your app/ site/ service deliver on that promise? Does it meet the user’s expectations or exceed them? Gamification is an interesting way to drive motivation by incentivising behaviour. Certain desired behaviour can be rewarded with points or unlocking of levels/ milestones in the game. This can also be done by promising emotional rewards, like feeling of doing something good on responding positively to an appeal to help the needy, through the app.

The second element is Ability, and it has two important aspects: the user’s skill or capacity to perform a particular task, and how the system can simplify or make their job easier. 

  1. Can a user do it?
  2. How simple is it?

Here is where an app/ website’s interaction patterns and information architecture come in. These determine how simple or difficult individual tasks within the system are. It is important to simplify the architecture as well as the environment. The UX designer has to make it easier for the user to choose between a number of options available to them. This can be done by including social cues as to what other people have chosen, like showcasing the “most popular” items on a menu, the “best selling” books and other objects. 

A Trigger is probably the most prominent and visible element in this equation. It is an immediate signal of when and where an action is to be taken. They most often occur sub-consciously and immediately. Usually, users have an instant reaction to triggers. In the context of UX, these design aspects are mostly visual, in which the structures of information and choices assume a physical form and that is when it is perceived by the user and they react to it. 

Decisions surrounding content, colour, vectors and typography are opportunities to make triggers. These not only attract and hold the user’s attention, but also instruct them on what action to take instantly. If these aspects are lined up well, the principles of cognitive psychology ensure that the user behaves in the desired fashion, often without even realising it. And amongst all this emphasis on content and visuals, the importance of context should not be overlooked. For instance, the appeal to a particular cause can have very different reactions depending on whether such appeal is being made by a survivor, an activist or a business tycoon.

User experience is fundamentally informed by user behaviour and user psychology in ux. With a basic understanding of behavioural sciences, a UX designer can ensure that their choices are not driven by function and aesthetics alone, but backed by scientific understanding of how users interact with interfaces. 

Following the article in-line to Behavioural Science, we would like to recommend few books for reference read that are directly or indirectly related to this topic, we are sharing you the link below:-👇

  1. Hooked by Nir Eyal
  2. Tiny Habits by Dr. B.J. Fogg
  3. Science and Human Behaviour by B.F. Skinner

FAQs For Behavioural Science in UX Design

Is Psychology useful for UX Design?

Psychology can help designers better understand how users think and behave, which can in turn help them design more user-friendly interfaces. Additionally, psychology can help designers create more effective persuasive techniques and better understand the principles of human-computer interaction. Ultimately, by incorporating psychology into their design processes, UX designers can create more user-centred designs that are better able to meet the needs and expectations of their users.

Is UX research related to Psychology?

UX research is related to psychology to an extent as it requires designers to understand the behaviour pattern of users and their needs. The study and research dive deep into how a user could respond to every bit of interaction made between the digital platform, websites, or apps.

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Keeping a keen eye on the latest trends and creating a buzz for Yellow Slice is what Priya is always up to! She's always on her toes to find and generate leads from different platforms. Juggling multiple tasks, clients and responsibilities, she is the all-rounder marketing girl! In her off time, you can find this multi-tasker cooking in the kitchen and reading growth hack books simultaneously.