Posts Tagged ‘Habits’

June 30th, 2011

Conscious Intent vs. Actual Behavior: On Meth, Cigarettes, and Not Trusting What People Say

By Kyle Morich

The girl, barely 16, studies herself in the bathroom mirror as she confirms plans with her best friend. “Yeah, my parents think I’m sleeping at your house,” she confirms, “Okay, bye.”  She hangs up and gets into the shower.  As she begins to bathe, something catches her eye in the tub below her.  She glances down and a gasp escapes her lips—there’s blood and dirt pooling in the bathtub around her feet.  She looks around in shock, trying to find the source.  Her eyes discover the culprit, a skinny and broken girl her same age, curled into a ball at the end of the tub, face and arms are covered in fresh cuts and bruises, eyes are sunken in, and entire body laboring with each wheezy breath.  The girl’s horror becomes fully realized when she recognizes this spectral creature: it is herself.  She screams in terror.  The ghastly version of herself shakes her head and rasps, “Don’t do it.  Don’t do it.”  The screen goes to black and the slogan appears: Meth.  Not Even Once.

Titles at the end of the Meth Project “Bathtub” ad

Georgia has a meth problem.  The state of Georgia is a national center for the production, sale, and use of methamphetamine, costing the state $1.3 billion annually.  The drug is so powerful that only a fraction of those who use are successfully treated, so the Georgia Meth Project was launched to target those who have never tried meth and keep it that way. The hard-hitting ads, like the 30-second “Bathtub” spot above, are broadcast on television and radio throughout the state. Recently, the non-profit released study results that they believe demonstrate that these scare tactics are working.  Of teens participating in a “Methamphetamine Use & Attitudes” survey, 78% said the ads made them less likely to try or use meth, and 85% said the ads showed them that the drug is more dangerous than they had originally believed.

True, it is a great endeavor to ensure that Georgia teens know about the harmful effects of meth and are decreasing their intentions to use, but are these harrowing ads actually translating those intentions into behavior? Nowhere in the study were references to any changes in actual meth use, so I looked into the 2009 CDC Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, a bi-annual monitoring of health-risk behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of death and disability among youth and adults, to see how methamphetamine use has changed.  The YRBS showed no statistical difference in meth usage for Georgia 9th through 12th graders from 2007 (when the Georgia Meth Project began) to 2009.  My first assumption was that perhaps meth use remained flat while usage increased for other illegal drugs, but the YRBS shows statistically unchanged numbers for cocaine, marijuana, inhalants, and heroin over the same time period.


August 18th, 2010

New Website, New Habits

By Kyle Morich

A week ago, Google performed an overhaul on its GMAIL application.  The update was mainly to the Contacts feature, but there was a slight aesthetic change to the layout of the labels on the left side, moving the Mail, Contacts, and Tasks links to the very top and creating a button for Compose Mail.  Minor, yes.  But the redesign was messing me up, if only a little bit.

The small changes to the Gmail interface

One of my old Gmail habits was to click on the Inbox link to get back to my main message folder.  I did this hundreds of times per week without thinking – automatically, unconsciously.  The unconscious mind is non-verbal.  It doesn’t read words and interpret its response accordingly; to the unconscious mind, words are just chunks of sensory information.  My unconscious mind wouldn’t look for “Inbox” in the old Gmail design.  All it knew that there was the Gmail Logo in the top left, there was a separate chunk of words below that (“Compose Mail”), and then the next section was the “Inbox” chunk, and it would click there.

Why is this relevant?  Because for the first three or four days after the redesign, I kept clicking the new “Compose Mail” button instead of the Inbox link.  And considering how the brain works, this makes sense.  My unconscious mind was still looking for the Gmail Logo (same place), ignoring the first chunk of words (now the Mail, Contacts, and Task links), and clicking on the next chunk of words (now the Compose Mail button).

It only took about a week to stop doing this, after several days of consciously forcing myself to read the words and click in the right spot.  Now I’m automatically clicking below the Compose Mail button to get back to the Inbox.  No big deal.  But the larger point is that the unconscious mind has the capability to learn and automatically perform extremely complex and nuanced behaviors, even if the interface it is learning is non-intuitive or complicated.  The classic example is Microsoft’s major redesign to its Office Suite a few years ago.  At my old company, a management consulting firm, my colleagues often used Microsoft Excel between 6 to 12 hours a day.  The “new and improved” Excel interface in Office 2008 with it’s “Ribbon Menu” really upset a lot of people.  These former Excel Gurus couldn’t figure out how to change the font.

When companies redesign websites  (Delta and MetaCritic, to name a few recent examples), they are doing so (I assume) to better the user experience and make the website easier to navigate.  But they often forget that habitual users of their site have highly ingrained unconscious behaviors related to the old design, and will very likely experience frustration having to think about using the site again.  If the changes are small, the frustration and errant clicking will pass quickly, but big enough and the experience can be exasperating for some of the company’s most habitually loyal users.