The Human Brain: Hardwired for Motion
We human beings are a brainy bunch. Our brain is the largest relative to body size among all other vertebrates. The cerebral cortex is greatly enlarged in humans and is the seat of complex thought. But in today’s modern world, it’s easy to forget that the brain has been key to our continued existence.
“The brain . . . is designed to solve problems related to surviving in an unstable outdoor environment and to do so in nearly constant motion (to keep you alive long enough to pass your genes on). We were not the strongest on the planet, but we developed the strongest brains, the key to our survival,” says this article on how the brain works.
One important element of that survival is the way in which our brains evaluate movement. Our bias towards motion has its roots in the crucial fight or flight response and is still important now. Simply put, when something moves, we are hardwired to notice and perceive it as a potential threat, so we pay close attention to it.
This is true even today, when such threats have shifted from the sabre tooth tiger to modern stresses such as traffic – or even situations that don’t involve movement, such as a tense conversation with your boss or disagreement with your spouse. The reaction is still the same: we note the threat and we respond to it, both physically and emotionally.
There are several corollaries to that biological imperative, according to this research paper on unexpected changes in direction:
• The direction of movement also is significant: motion towards you suggests a threat, while motion away may or may not spell trouble.
• When something changes direction, its intentions for good or evil may also have changed, so we notice it.
• Speed and acceleration have a similar impact. Faster movement can increase your perception of a threat, so it’s more noticeable. Changes in speed also grab attention, especially when they happen closer to you.
• In another connection to our biological roots, when we notice something move, we pause and watch it. “One of the survival strategies that humans and many other mammals developed was to freeze in the face of danger. Any movement could possibly attract the attention of a predator, which would invariably reduce their chances of survival,” according to this article.
In addition to minimizing the chances of early man becoming dinner, this freeze response “also allowed our ancestors to assess the situation fully and choose the best course of action.”
So, to summarize, movement attracts attention and causes us to pause and assess its relevance to us, while lack of motion does the opposite. Is there any wonder why the motion of digital signage garners 400% more eyeballs than traditional signage (Intel)?
The punchy motion we use in creating digital signage, particularly at the beginning of messages, is designed to take advantage of the impact movement has on us. How messages move on and off screen, whether they speed up or slow down, the addition of video: all play off our instinct to attend to movement, including standing still and watching what captures our attention. Motion creates a sense of urgency – in this case, not to run from a predator, but to walk into a store and buy.
So, a static sign is much less likely to catch our attention; to the modern shopper, it simply becomes part of the environment, like wallpaper. Is it time to swap out static for digital signage solutions? Only if you’d like a response from your customers.
For more specifics on movement and its role in our work, check out our previous blog, On the Move: Using Motion Design to Create Compelling Digital Signage.