Web Design & Distractors

What we know about the brain- and what can cause distractions.


Tallulah Goldsmith

2 years ago | 3 min read

Today, the online presence of businesses is more important than ever before. The pandemic has seen an ever-growing number of companies rely upon clientele that have discovered them through LinkedIn, their website, or other social media posts that have managed to catch their eye.

And with everyone increasing their online content, the competitive pool for aesthetically pleasing and approachable web design has grown exponentially. But what is the most crucial secret to creating an effective website?

For over 200 years, Psychologists have been fascinated with theories of attentional processing, namely- the human ability to identify important elements of messaging- and our inability to focus on two conflicting stimuli at once.

Unconscious behaviours are overwhelmingly controlled by distractions, otherwise known as interference. During processing, we often interpret messages incorrectly, if the basis of the messaging is unclear. As reading and acknowledging information is commonly an unconscious behaviour, we are very susceptible to the phenomenon of something Stroop interference.

First identified by Stroop in 1935, this concept of interference is potentially a lost or vague memory for most. This is because many of us have experienced some form of Stroop interference at some point in our lives, even if we are unaware of its meaning or name.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Stroop interference refers to situations in which individuals read one thing, but interpret it as another. The original study by Stroop was the first of many that focussed upon compound stimuli- specifically, Stroop used colour words (e.g. blue) but written in an incongruent (different/ conflicting) colour. An example of this would be red.

Stroop asked his participants to read aloud the ink colour of each word, however, upon countless trials of around 60 words per stimulus sheet, Stroop found that most people tended to identify the written colour word before they could respond with the ink colour.

These results were interpreted by Stroop as an example of differential practice hypothesis- in which humans can identify words automatically, but have to contemplate the meaning of colours and pictures before they can give a response.

This is important for web design for one reason in particular. If the message of a website is unclear, or the design is conflicting with the content, humans have a tendency to shut down and search for a different website with a more approachable layout.

In addition to this, educational websites have to be careful not to deter their viewers through the use of too many images or colours, without supporting written messages. Though it would be presumed that children would firstly choose a website with the brightest inks and boldest fonts, in reality, humans rely upon the written word to understand information in an easy manner.

Stroop sample

Aside from anything else, Stroop interference is mind boggling because what our mouths are doing tends not to match what we expect ourselves to say.

If you don’t believe this, have a go by googling ‘Stroop Interference test’ and going to ‘images’. If not for anything else, children will usually enjoy racing to see just how quickly they can identify each colour, and the flapping that ensues when the wrong colour is shouted out can be quite funny.

At the moment, we all spend a lot of time sitting in front of computer screens. Perhaps try keeping a tab of which websites you are drawn to and also of the ones that instantly make your grimace and look somewhere else- do you think that Stroop interference has deterred you from any messaging at all? What kinds of colours are used for particular types of advertisement? You may find a pattern that hadn’t occurred to you before, for example where do you find red to be utilised most? An additional element of Stroop interference is the associations that we make of particular colours and related words. For example, when you think of grass, what colour do you picture first?

The colours used on a website are certain to become strongly associated with the general message of the business that it advertises, making the image created online all the more important- especially since remote business relationships are becoming more crucial constantly.

Homework for this week- go and entertain your kids using the Stroop test! And let me know what you think…


Created by

Tallulah Goldsmith

Psychology student writing about behavioural sciences, business psychology and child development







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