Understanding People’s Perception: Part II

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Categories: Blog

Alright, people, better get your learning hats on, because we’ve got another educational entry for you today. It’s a continuation of the material shared with you in an earlier post that was drawn from the work of Susan Weinschenk,  Ph. D., 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People. Attaining a better understanding of how the human brain works in perceiving images is a crucial skill in the arsenal of any good designer. So without further ado, let’s have at it.

Peripheral VS Central Vision

As you well might have imagined, central vision has to do with the objects we look at directly, as well as to perceive details, whereas peripheral vision has to deal with the rest of visual field, the things that are on the sidelines, as it were. Dr. Weinschenk draws upon scientific findings from Kansas State University to show that contrary to the belief that peripheral vision is only used to make out things out of the corner of the eye, it plays a considerably more vital part in perception. Through it, we are able to make out what type of scene we’re looking at and not only that, but Adam Larson and Lester Loschky (2009) have conducted an experiment in which participants were shown sets of photographs in which the central part of the image was blurred out and sets where the outside was hidden. The results showed that people were more likely to identify the objects depicted in the images where the centre was obscured than the other way around. Consequently, it does not work as well the other way around.

The aforementioned only goes to demonstrate that central vision is most important for exact object recognition, whereas peripheral vision serves to make out the general sense of a scene. If you understand this, you may get an idea why advertisers design their ads in such a way that no matter how hard you’re trying to concentrate on the content, you still get sidetracked and your attention wanders to the periphery of the page. Annoying, yes, but the standing theory is that, from an evolutionary point of view, our ancestors would carry out any task that required their full attention, such as sharpening a rock or scanning the sky for a weather forecast, all the while they would still perceive incoming threats from predators. This idea is also backed by research as Dimitri Bayle(2009) conducted an experiment wherein he placed fear-inducing images in participant’s central and peripheral vision. Upon measuring the time it took for the emotional part of the brain – the amygdala – to react, the results point out that the supremacy of one of the other, as images exposed to peripheral vision took 80 milliseconds to process, whereas those shown to the central one took between 140 to 190 milliseconds.

What you need to take with you from all this is that, as a designer, you need to be aware of what happens in the peripheral view of people and how it affects them. This type of vision enables us to make quick judgements about the contents of a page in milliseconds. Keep this in mind when projecting your next design and make sure you use peripheral vision to your advantage!

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