10 Things You Should Consider UX About Psychology Part 4 of 10: About memory

Greetings! Here is the translation of the fourth part of the article “10 Things You Should Consider in UX About Psychology”. Original: 10 Things to About Human Psychology That Should Inform UX Design (The Psychology of UX) http://www.methodsandtools.com/archive/archive.php?id=126

You can read other parts on my Facebook https://www.facebook.com/snegovoy or on VKontakte https://vk.com/senioruxresearcher.

Part 4 of 10: About memory

Human memory is complex

“Memory is deceiving, because it is colored by today’s events”

Albert Einstein

So what is memory?

Memory, in its most general definition, is the property to interpret, store and reproduce information and experience. This is an important part of our life. We rely on memory to remember ourselves, others, our past experiences, and potential threats.

How it works?

There are three memory systems: Sensory, Short-term and Long-term.

All the time, our five senses are taking in too many stimuli from the environment, filtering them out and filtering out irrelevant information. When the stimulus has ended, and the impression about it remains, it is temporarily recorded in our consciousness. This is Sensory Memory. This often happens unconsciously and lasts only a split second.

Our brain then goes through two processes to transfer information from Sensory memory to Short-term memory. The first process is pattern recognition as we actively search our Long-term memory for a similar pattern for new raw information. The second process involves focusing our attention on the stimulus while it moves into Short-Term Memory, where it is recognized mainly acoustically and sometimes visually.

Our short-term memory usually works no more than 30 seconds and has limited resources for storing information, because all this happens in the frontal lobe of our brain.

There is no definite figure for how many objects we can store simultaneously in Short Term Memory. One popular theory suggests that we can fit 7 (plus / minus 2) in there, but this has been refuted (http://www.knosof.co.uk/cbook/misart.pdf [Eng]) and now it is believed that this figure is even less. But by breaking information up into groups of objects (for example, memorizing a phone number as a set of three-digit and four-digit numbers), we can optimize storage in our short-term memory.

Once we have stored the information in our Short Term Memory, we can encrypt it semantically by inventing mental associations and repeating them often in Long Term Memory, which spreads throughout the brain in neural connections.

In the last action, our memory – recreates, i.e. retrieves information from storage and decodes it. But this is not always a linear process …

Memory distortions

“The process of memorization includes the search for information that has been unconsciously changed to a state of incompatibility with the original knowledge” – Neurophilosophy

Let’s take a look at one study of the characteristics of Short-Term Memory that shows how memory often fails us:

“In a study by Intons-Peterson et. for young and old respondents, in which they were asked to memorize a list: candy, sour, sugar, bitter, good, tasty, tooth, cute, soda, chocolate, heart, cake, eat and pie. Then they were asked to write down all the words that they remembered in a minute. Further, the test implied that the subjects should choose from the words: “tasty”, “dot” and “sweet”, which was included in the original list. More than 80-90% of the participants confidently named the word “sweet”, which was a mistake. The word “sweet” is a close association with this set and this choice was the result of a memory failure. Incidents like this are chilling reminders of memory insecurity. ”

Yes, our memory can be deceiving, and as Daniel L. Schacter, a psychologist at Harvard, explains in his famous book ‘The Seven Sins of Memory’ (Daniel L. Schacter), it goes wrong in seven ways:

  1. Short term
  2. Absent-mindedness
  3. Blocking
  4. Suggestibility
  5. Bias
  6. Persistence
  7. Misattribution

But I’ll focus on the web-relevant ones:

Short term

Weakening or loss of memory over time, regardless of age. For example, you may clearly remember which background you chose for your MySpace profile back in 2001, but now it’s (thankfully) a vague memory. “I’m pretty sure it was pink with dancing stars that had anime cat faces …”


Information that is inaccurately added to memory due to leading questions and suggestions. This usually happens with eyewitnesses to crime, as they are interviewed many times and their story changes depending on the questions asked, but it can also happen during in-depth interviews on UX research. “So would something like Apple’s interface be the best solution?”


Editing and rewriting past memories distorted to our current knowledge and beliefs. “I always knew online dating would go mainstream.”


Assigning a memory to the wrong source or context. For example, the saying “I heard on the news the other day that Farmville is responsible for depleting the brain cells of its regular users…” even though you read it on Twitter.

But how does this affect UX design?

All of these “sins” of memory are especially relevant for the stage of user research. When conducting interviews with businesses or users, this nuance must be taken into account: personal opinions are often contradictory due to the fact that the memories are not as accurate as we would like. It should also be borne in mind that if the researched business or users do not use such a system constantly, but only remember their experience, then their memory may already be broken. The memories we don’t use are erased from our long-term memory.

In another study by Sir Frederick Bartlett, a 20th century British psychologist, he asked people to read an American folk tale and retell it several times throughout the year. And he found that people were rebuilding history to fit their biases and beliefs.

“Participants left out information they thought was irrelevant, emphasized things they thought were important, and rationalized parts that didn’t make sense to make the story easier to understand. In other words, memory reconstructs rather than repeats. ”


As we can see, one can almost expect that human memory will be wrong. This is why it is important to conduct observational user research instead of (or in conjunction with) interviews. In short, watch what they do, not what they say! Remember this;)

During the design stage, we must also pay attention to the Seven Sins of Remembrance. With Short Term Memory remembering only the last 30 seconds at best, a good interface should be designed so that the user does not have to memorize every step at all while completing a task, but helps to easily progress through the process.

In addition, the limited capabilities of Short-Term Memory mean that we should not bombard users with an excess of information at a time that they cannot focus on and remember for more than a few seconds. Design should direct users’ attention to tasks.

We have visual design tools:

  • secretion
  • prioritization (important information first)
  • frequency (information is repeated if needed)
  • associations (segregation of objects / information by similarity or groups) to help users retain more information in their Sensory and Short-term memory.

This will ultimately help them navigate our system more effectively and pinpoint the key information they need to remember.

One final thought in a more user-friendly approach: maintaining consistency across all navigation and interaction patterns means that the user only has to figure out the interaction once.

“If we remembered everything, we would have too much information to weed out and find important things that affect our survival”

So now that you’ve finished reading this section, read it again. Over and over, until your brain can quote its key points, and then, I hope, this information will already be in your Long Term Memory. 😉

Leave your comments and questions here on ux.pub or in the group: https://vk.com/senioruxresearcher or on my VK pages: https://vk.com/graysergey or FB: https://www.facebook.com/ snegovoy

Author: Clark Douglas

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