Is Your iPhone App Making You Fat?

Kathy Sierra hasn’t blogged in years(1), but she’s written something new this week about willpower, self-control, and cognitive drain. In particular, she posits that many apps that you use on your phone deplete your cognitive resources, which make it easy for you to succumb to unwanted things (like eating more cookies, etc):

An experiment asked one group of dogs to sit, just sit, nothing else, for a few minutes before being released to play with their favorite treat “puzzle” toy (the ones where the dog has to work at getting the treats out of it). The other group of dogs were allowed to just hang out in their crates before getting the treat puzzle.

You know where this goes: the dogs that had to sit — exercising self-control — gave up on the puzzle much earlier than the dogs that were just hanging out in their crate.The dogs that were NOT burning cognitive resources being obedient had more determination and mental/emotional energy for solving the puzzle. Think about that next time you ask Sparky to be patient. His cognitive resources are easily-depleted too.

Now think about what we’re doing to our users.

If your UX asks the user to make choices, for example, even if those choices are both clear and useful, the act of deciding is a cognitive drain. And not just while they’re deciding… even after we choose, an unconscious cognitive background thread is slowly consuming/leaking resources, “Wasthat the right choice?” 

If your app is confusing and your tech support / FAQ isn’t helpful, you’re drawing down my scarce, precious, cognitive resources. If your app behaves counter-intuitively – even just once – I’ll leak cog resources every time I use it, forever, wondering, “wait, did that do what I expected?”. Or let’s say your app is super easy to use, but designed and tuned for persuasive brain hacks (“nudges”, gamification, behavioral tricks, etc.) to keep me “engaged” for your benefit, not mine (lookin’ at you, Zynga)… you’ve still drained my cognitive resources.

And when I back away from the screen and walk to the kitchen…

 Your app makes me fat.

I am not convinced entirely, but it does raise some good questions about the direction of modern-day distractions and our cognitive load.

Worth reading in entirety here.

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2 thoughts on “Is Your iPhone App Making You Fat?

  1. […] So what’s the takeaway here? Not that you should stop carrying around a phone, or not get notifications about stuff you need to know about. You’re always going to have important emails or IMs or tweets or whatever the hell. But it’s worth remembering that a good, seamless experience with tech — within apps or in an OS or gadget as a whole — is worth something to your brain. Maybe your waistline too. [Serious Pony via Reading by Eugene] […]

  2. […] So what’s the takeaway here? Not that you should stop carrying around a phone, or not get notifications about stuff you need to know about. You’re always going to have important emails or IMs or tweets or whatever the hell. But it’s worth remembering that a good, seamless experience with tech—within apps or in an OS or gadget as a whole—is worth something to your brain. Maybe your waistline too. [Serious Pony via Reading by Eugene] […]

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