In his book, How We Decide, Jonah Lehrer explains how our brain makes decisions and learns from mistakes, and how we can “feel” intrinsically rewarded by getting what we thought we would get. It all happens through neuron dopamine receptors in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), the part of our brain involved in the detection of errors and the revision of future predictions about expected outcomes.

What’s really interesting about the neuroscience research that Lehrer writes about is that it reveals why people have expectations about events in their lives and why they can get easily frustrated or disappointed if those expectations aren’t met, and how people learn from those disappointments and form new patterns of predictions for future events.

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on my dopamine neurons.”

The implications of this research on the field of design is clear. It’s so very important for designers to consider people’s expectations when designing anything, whether it be a product or service, as this kind of an understanding can be very useful when trying to map new interactions to neural patterns that have been defined over a long period of time. The best designs meet people’s expectations and strategies for neural processing of events from the start, without forcing people to learn by trial and error. The best designs make it easy for our brains to map well-understood metaphors for things that we’ve used our past to new things that we’re using in the present.


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