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brain hijacking

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Brain hijacking is the application of principles from fields including neuroscience, behavioral psychology and sociology to develop compulsive elements for consumer technologies.

Developers created the term as a reference to the way those compelling mechanisms capture the users' attention and overcome their conscious intention. The effort is intended to make these technologies more addictive to the users so that they spend more time with them, which results in more profit for designers, content owners and marketers. Brain hijacking efforts typically focus on user interfaces, software, mobile apps, social media, games and marketing content.

Here are some methods designed to hijack user attention:

Autoplay videos, such as those on YouTube and Netflix keep a steady flow of videos so that the user who set out to watch a single video or episode finds themselves sitting through several in a row.

Facebook uses algorithms to tailor techniques to the individual, for example identifying when a teenager might be likely to feel insecure and in need of a confidence boost.

On Snapchat, a feature called Snapstreaks encourages near-constant communication.

"Likes" for posts on social media sites can be delayed for delivery when it has been determined that the user is likely to leave the site or app, in the attempt to make them stay longer.

The intermittent delivery of rewards is a tactic borrowed from operant conditioning, where researchers discovered that giving rewards at irregular intervals was the most effective reinforcement schedule.

This was last updated in May 2018

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