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:

  • Charles Apple

    A longtime news artist and designer, Apple is the former graphics director of the Virginian-Pilot and the Des Moines Register. He teaches design and graphics workshops, does some consulting work and blogs for the American Copy Editors Society.


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