Cognitive Ease


Cognitive ease or cognitive fluency relates to the ease with which our brain processes information. We prefer things that are easy to process. Cognitive ease generates a feeling of security and understanding  as our fast, intuitive and emotional brain (i.e. system 1) is fully in control of decisions and comfortable with our environment.

Image of causes and effect of cognitive ease from Thinking, fast and slow

Image Source: Thinking, fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman

Cognitive ease is a cause of feeling good, but also a consequence. However, cognitive ease can give us a false sense of security because it makes us feel more confident about information we receive and we rely on mental short-cuts to evaluate the accuracy and validity of data. This can result in an illusion of understanding.

Cognitive ease is influenced by a number of factors outlined below.

1.Past Experience:

If a visitor has previously been to your site, experienced a similar template or are aware of your brand, then their cognitive fluency will be higher than if they had not had any of these experiences. This is one reason for the mere-exposure effect which is where a person’s preference for something rises according to how familiar they are with it.

2. Directional Cues:

Websites and apps contain directional cues that help (or distract ) visitors towards the next step in a conversion journey. This includes implicit cues (e.g. white space) and explicit cues (e.g. arrows and lines). When a page has too much clutter and too little white space this can reduce fluency due to the amount of clutter and distractions on the page.

Cognitive ease and fluency is in the eye of the beholder. It depends upon the user’s experience and familiarity with the design of the site. This can be influenced by cultural factors and their expectations of the user experience. This really boils down to understanding your customers, using language and design principles that they are familiar with.

Implications for conversion optimisation:

Cognitive ease or fluency is very important for conversion because it affects decision making. Fluently processed messages are more likely to be judged as true and trustworthy. The psychologist Adam Alter discovered that the fluency of a name can influence outcomes, including company performance on the stock market. So cognitive fluency is extremely important when it comes to website design and conversions.

Research has also indicated how low contrast text, which is not cognitively fluent, makes visitors less likely to be honest and more critical of offensive behaviour.  Low contrast copy disrupts a visitor’s ability to quickly scan a webpage and so it creates cognitive strain by making the user slow down and analyse each letter to recognise word and character shapes.

So, if you want to improve your conversion rate it is essential that you design you user experiences with cognitive fluency in mind. People take the path of least resistance. This means that if your site is not cognitive fluent many visitors are likely to bounce and go somewhere else rather than persevere with your site.



Conversion marketing – Glossary of Conversion Marketing.

Cognitive strain – Minimising cognitive load to improve conversion.

Fluency of names – How do names influence behaviour and outcomes?

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