Interesting article in New Scientist Magazine (subscription required). Jane Raymond, consumer psychologist at the University of Wales, Bangor, has been studying how to grab your attention and discovered a new effect that advertisers have yet to accomodate.
Raymond was conducting research in visual processing during the 1990s and discovered a quirk in the brain’s attention system. She performed a test that required people to look at a stream of letters and numbers on a screen and look out for a white letter or an ‘X’. The results showed that if the ‘X’ appeared up to half a second after the white letter, or vice versa, people failed to see it. Raymond concluded that if something catches your attention, your brain is blind to anything else for a short period afterwards. She called this effect the “attentional blink”.
There has been lots of discussion about attention overload recently – acknowledging that our attention span remains constant whilst the quantity of information trying to catch our attention has increased exponentially. But this article introduces a new concept – how many adverts take into account our attentional blink? If we notice the main image we may fail to pick up the secondary image that occurs immediately afterwards. Ironically, it’s usually the secondary image (the tag line) that advertisers’ want us to see. How often do we watch an advert that grabs our attention but later find we cannot recall what product is being advertised? That’s the attentional blink effect.
The article also mentions another effect that I have noticed recently – the relationship between emotion and attention. Advertisers want to connect with our emotions, ‘love the brand’, but have failed to notice that this relationship is not a one-way street:
In 2003, Raymond found that if people are distracted by an image or brand when performing an intellectually demanding task, they tend to instantly dislike it, regardless of its emotional value
I experience this effect every time an advert pops up and covers part of the web page you are trying to read, requiring you to close the damn thing before you can go back to reading the article. I don’t care what’s been advertised, I hate it immediately (and also start to question if the site is worth visiting in future). Worst still, I may accidentally click on the stupid thing, whilst trying to close it, and the idiot company responsible for the advert probably registers that click as proof that the advert is successful. Wrong, wrong, wrong!