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Web Site Psychology

Location: 2002 Level: Intermediate

Cognitive psychology helps to explain human behavior through making models of the process of understanding and processing information. Similar mental models are at play on our web sites when we create systems for our web applications—we are trying to predict and encourage a way of thinking and behaving. By understanding the thought processes of our users we can make better web sites for them.

This talk will explore aspects of cognitive psychology and relate them to the web development process. Schema theory will show how our users create these mental models and how they can change over time, plus what happens when they change too quickly. A look at flow will explore how this relatively new area can encourage your users to interact with your site on a deeper level.

We’ll explore why people find challenge satisfying and how to apply this to your site. How people react to repeated tasks is an important aspect of human behavior, reinforcement is the psychological model at work. We’ll explore why RSS and email reminders work in different ways, plus show where else reinforcement surfaces.

Finally we’ll look at the overall web development process and armed with our new knowledge, discover how we can make better decisions about what to build and how to approach new features.

Photo of Gavin Bell

Gavin Bell


Gavin designs social software for the Nature Publishing Group. He has worked in web product development since the mid-90s. Large scale web applications covering identity management, on-demand media and social software have been the main focus of his work.
Gavin lives in London with his wife and son. He writes on nascent for Nature and on take one onion. His personal website is gavinbell.com.