How does the brain perceive & process news online?

Why is it that most news sites are so difficult to navigate? Why does “intelligent Web design” seem like such an oxymoron?

We discussed these topics and more in a live chat with Paul Bolls, associate director and co-director of the Psychological Research on Information and Media Effects Lab at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism.

Bolls is studying how the brain perceives and processes online news and advertising, using equipment that measures physiological responses to what users see on Web pages. He writes that he hopes to discover what will make news and ad content “that users pay more attention to, understand better, and remember longer.”

Here are some interesting excerpts from his recent blog posts:

  • “Product advertisers have known for years that an aesthetically pleasing product will increase approach behaviors — grounded in basic motivational processes in the brain — among consumers, but the news industry has yet to realize its potential as a communication product.”
  • “Somewhere along the line it appears to have erroneously been decided that listing a ton of unrelated bits of information in menu form is great for Web design. This completely goes against the fundamental nature of the human brain and how it processes information.”
  • “Brain-friendly online news websites are not only more likely to actually make people smarter about the world around them — my simple way of stating the ideal objective of journalism — but also provide a more effective advertising environment.”

Preliminary results of his research won’t be released until this Spring. You can read more about Bolls’ research project here, and see some of his previous papers on the PRIME Lab’s site.

You can replay the chat here:

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  • robelroy

    No… No irony here at all. Just another off the top off my head, I associate the NYT print edition with Tiffany’s jewelry. My local paper is also a big fan of Grangettos farm supply, Scripps Health, UCSD and Scripps health. None of this is without real prompting. Good luck on this…. I have to assume you are entirely correct. There are relatively few things on the NYT website that i remember, though the ipad Ralph Lauren ads I will never forget. For some reason, i do remember the ING tile ad on the website though. There is something about a backlit screen that changes my interaction. Cool to hear you are using these techs. I am familiar with them.

  • Anonymous

    @Cobly:disqus @robelroy, thanks for backing these anecdotal evidence stories up! I don’t know, if i this age of sarcasm and irony if you meant what you wrote, but assuming you really did mean it, then GOOD! if you were pulling my leg, par for the course. But watch: in the near future, real MRI and PET SCAN studies WILL show my hunch was right, but we need hard science, not just anecdotal evidence. Stay tuned. The entire web industry will be turned upside down by one Danny Bloom (1949-2032)….

  • robelroy

    Dan… No doubt! I read the FT paper edition and can never get Patek Philip watches, Chopard or Goldman Sachs client services out of my head. Ask me what was on the NYT website and I am lost.

  • Anonymous

    Screen Reading v. Paper Surface Reading.Dan Bloom brings news that MRI brain imaging lab is to study differences in screen-reading, paper-surface reading.
    Dan is a freelance writer based in Taiwan. His hunch that reading on paper is superior in terms of brain chemistry to reading off screens has yet to be proven or dismissed, but he hopes future reserach using fMRi and PET scanswill help explain the differences in terms of neuroscience.Dr Ellen Marker studies reading. But not off screens or in
    paper books. Her research is done in a Quincy laboratory.The pioneering neuroscientist analyzes brains in their most enthusiastic reading state, hoping to understand the differences between reading off screens and reading on paper surfaces.Like me, Dr Marker feels that her studies will show reading on paper is superior to reading off screens in terms of
    retention, processing, analysis and critical thinking.But first, let’s see what the scans will be like.Dr Marker asks me to put myself into an fMRI machine so she and his team can study which areas of the brain are activated by reading text on paper compared to reading the same text on a computer screen or a Kindle e-reader.And this is why I’m here. Today I will donate my brain scans to science.Among the things that Market has discovered so far is that reading on paper might be something we as a civilization should not ever give up.“Even though reading on screens is useful and convenient, and I do it all the time, I feel that reading on paper is something we should never cede to the digital revolution,” Marker, 43, says. “We need both.”On the day I climb into the brain imaging cocoon, I am thinking about what it all might mean. But since I am just a guinea pig and not a scientist, I will have to wait for the results.I enter a sterile lab, and Marker and her four associates greet me, all in white lab coats.As they hand me my a pale blue gown to change into, I have
    second thoughts — “How can I read while lying down horizontally my back, not my preferred reading mode?” — but decide to push myself.Science needs me!The scientists load me into the machine and I’m off.Next step: They strap my head down, because any movement distorts the brain imaging. Ever try to read a book without facial movements?I feel as if I’m being shoved into the middle of a toilet paper roll, the walls so close my eyelashes almost graze them.Then I hear a voice through the earphones I’m wearing. It’s Dr Marker.“You okay in there?” she asks.Graduate student Dan Smith, 52, tells me to relax before
    running around to join the other scientists in the control room.With the invention of the fMRI only 20 years ago, along came the ability to look at brain activity. Marker says that by understanding a function as gigantic as reading, how the reading brain does its magic dance, a response that hijacks all of one’s attention, she might also learn how reading on screens could be inferior to reading on paper.“The more we understand how the brain works,” she says, “the more we will be able to help people modulate its activity.”As the machine switches on, it sounds like a jackhammer. I follow Marker’s instructions and as I do, the group watches my brain on their computer monitors. I will read passages from a novel, and then later I will read the same passages on a Kindle. I just hope the Kindle does not blow up inside the brain scan machine!Research and teaching take up most of Marker’s time, but when she has a spare moment, she thinks about what all this might mean for the future of humankind.During my first hour in the fMRI machine, researchers map my brain’s reading paths to find out which parts correlate to which regions of the brain.“You have 10 minutes,” Marker says through my earphones near the end of our test. “Keep reading.”On the other side of the glass pane, the scientists can see my brain lighting up as I read on paper and as I read on a screen. Regions light up in different ways, Marker says.Komisaruk discusses what her research could do for the future of humankind. “We need to know if reading on screens is going to be good if it replaces all our reading on paper.”Marker’s lab has paid me a $100 subject fee, so I want to give them their money’s worth.After all, it’s not easy to get funding for this stuff — Marker
    says she spends at least half of her time applying for grants.“There’s no premium on studying paper reading modes versus
    screen-reading modes in this society,” she tells me as Smith murmurs, “What do you expect? The gadgetheads want to take over.”When the tests are over, Marker tells me the data takes two hours to convert, but it can take much longer to make sense of it.“We’ll be at this for a while,” she says.One of the biggest conundrums turns out to be a nagging
    question for all mankind: What if reading on screens is not good for retention of data, emotional connections and critical thinking skills?Marker begins slipping more and more into her thoughts. “Neurons, little bags of chemicals, create
    awareness,” he says, “but how? How does the brain read?
    What is reading, really?”I see that at the heart of all her research, there is a
    philosopher trying not only to understand reading, but also figure out the nuts and bolts that make up the reading brain.“It’s the hard question I want to answer,” she says. “What is
    the reading brain really all about?“I find that,” she adds, “and I find the Nobel Prize.”
    Written by Dan Bloom – Published on February 7, 2012 12:12 PM | Permalink

  • Staples Coupon Code

    Some drugs cater to the pleasure centers in the brain. Sorry about the
    “highly technical” term pleasure centers – can’t think of the right

  • Anonymous

    see my work on “screen-reading vs paper surface reading” on google search and see how my work work with MRI and PET SCAN machines proves my hunch, which nobody wil report or write about, that reading on paper surfaces lights up different regions of the  brain vs screen-reading same text and that these paper reading regions are superior brain chemistry wise for three things: info processing, info retention and info analysis aka critical thinking. Of course Chuck Apple here won’t even return my emails so what’s a man to do? SIGH. see here: –