Bias your UX research towards good

As a user experience (UX) researcher and a fan of positive psychology there are two cognitive biases that have been bothering me lately: confirmation bias and negativity bias. These biases happen to everyone, both UX people and normal people.

Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias basically means that we see what we expect to see. Now, as a UX researcher it is my job to find UX problems when doing usability tests, evaluations or user research. In all my years of doing this work I’ve never seen a software that didn’t have at least some problems. I expect to see them.

Does that make me see more of them? Even ones that aren’t there?

We see what we expect to see.

Negativity bias

Negativity bias means that negative things make bigger impact to our brains, making the negative things easier to remember than positive things. Now, as a UX researcher I’m not only skewing my attention towards the negative to confirm my expectations, but I also remember these negative UX problems better than the positive findings. Looking back my old UX reports it’s obvious. I always mean to highlight also the good practices I’ve found in the UX research, but somehow seem to forget at least part of them.

Sound familiar? What can we do about it?

Apply positivity ratio

Because negatives are so much stronger than positives,  psychologists such as Dr. Barbara Fredrickson have suggested that we should deliberately embrace positive things more than negatives to make them stick. Fredrickson has suggested a “positivity ratio of 3-to-1”: we need 3 times more positive things than negative ones. Even though this ratio has had its share of critique, I’m still going to apply it:

I hereby challenge myself – and all the other UX researchers out there – to make the effort to list 3 good UX practices per every UX problem we find in any given study.

This way we should:

  1. pay more attention also to good UX practices, and
  2. remember to report about them, too.

And as for the team who receives the UX report: I bet it’s easier for them to work on the found UX problems, when they also get to hear how many things they’ve done right. :-)

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