10 Feb 2022
What is it?
The negativity bias is when people tend to pay more attention to negative experiences, over neutral or positives ones – no matter how significant.
For example, when you visit your favourite restaurant, you’re more likely to remember the hair on your pizza, than the delicious antipasti ate prior.
Negative (and dangerous) threats were literally life and death for primitive humans. Through the process of evolution, today we dwell on the negative more than the positive as the brain tries to keep us safe.
Why is it important?
In terms of UX, negativity bias is why a single usability issue on your site will often be much more memorable than the many positive features.
We’ve seen this in usability testing, when participants rarely comment or care when things are going fine and can complete their task easily. However, when the interaction doesn’t match their expectations, the negative experience often stands out and they become critical and remember it.
As users often remember the negatives over the positives, customers will be less likely to return to your site if their experience was a poor.
What to do next?
Negative bias cannot be fully avoided, but you can reduce its impact by considering the following:
- Use design best practices that are familiar to users. This makes your site behaviour more predictable, improving user experience.
- Conduct research to better understand your users and align journeys to their expectations.
- Pay attention to where in the journey people have questions. You can then answer these questions through content to aid future users.
- Provide useful error messages and empty states so users understand what is happening and why. This will guide them to conversion faster and smoother.
- Test often. Usability tests will uncover the low points and so you can fix them.
- When looking at your next project, try not to focus only on new features. Dedicate time to removing problems as that is likely to have the biggest impact.