Principles of Psychology You Can Use to Improve Your App

Many small elements play a role in why people may or may not fancy your app. Most of these details are subconscious – users aren’t even aware of why they like or don’t like something. They just do.

Salespeople and advertisers have been appealing to the subconscious since the dawn of sales and advertising. Today there are even experts that specialize in applying the well-known or less common principles of psychology to sell products and services to the masses. 

Let’s take a look at some of these principles:


1. The Von Restorff effect

This simple principle states that distinctive items are more likely to be remembered than regular ones. In other words, to make your target audience remember your app, you need to focus on making it stand out from the rest.

You can do this with the help of details like color, size, images, fonts, words, sounds or animations. This principle can be applied in an app store, ads, or inside the app itself.

2. The Zeigarnik and Ovsiankina effects

Have you ever left some business unfinished and then couldn’t stop thinking about it? This is what the Zeigarnik and Ovsiankina effects refer to – intrusive thoughts about an incomplete task leading to a strong desire to complete it.

This is natural human behavior and can be successfully applied in mobile games. For instance, besides dividing a mobile app into levels, you can add progress bars, task lists, completion percentages, and checkpoints, making the user feel like there’s always something left to do.

3. Positive reinforcement or the Pavlovian conditioning

You have probably heard of the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov and how he reinforced desirable behavior in his dog with a reward system. The principle of positive reinforcement can be applied to human behavior as well, especially in child-rearing and education.

Offering rewards is also an effective way to increase user engagement in mobile apps. For example, giving rewards for specific achievements will create a sense of satisfaction and encourage users to take part in more activities and get even more rewards. These can be points, badges, customization options, bonuses, and more.


4. Pattern matching

Humans are known to look for familiar visual patterns (remember Jesus on a pancake?). Recognizing patterns similar to something you’ve seen earlier results in your brain creating cognitive associations, while unknown visual details feel more foreign to our minds. 

This means that incorporating familiar patterns in the app design will create positive feelings about the app. That said, the visuals don’t necessarily need to be familiar to the viewer to capture their attention. Sometimes unfamiliar elements can create shock value and draw attention just because they’re unusual. It’s all about balance.

5. Social influence

We are social creatures. We depend on each other for survival and thrive on each other’s approval. This is why society plays a large role in our decision-making and social media has only extended this influence. We see people we like as our role models and tend to heed their advice and recommendations about many things, mobile apps included.

If you want your mobile app to succeed, you should utilize the immense power of social media, influencers, and referral campaigns to reach wide audiences and spread the word.

6. Progress disclosure

Taking in new information requires energy and effort. There’s a certain point when a person can take no more information without first storing the data absorbed earlier. The information has to be divided into smaller portions as to not overwhelm the person accessing it. In psychology, this process is called progressive disclosure.

In mobile apps, this involves prioritization of important content and simpler interfaces. You should start by showing users only a few of the most essential options or features and divulge a larger set of specialized options only if they ask for them. This way, first-time users will focus their attention only on features that are most likely to be useful to them, while saving time for those more experienced as they don’t have to scan past a large list of features they rarely use.

7. Dual-coding theory

The dual-coding theory is based on the idea that memory has two different yet interconnected systems – one for verbal, and the other for non-verbal information. The relationship between them positively affects memory and learning. 

In an app, pairing icons or images with text instead of using one of the other helps users retain the information better and complete tasks faster, leading to a better sense of accomplishment and greater satisfaction.

8. Gestalt school and the law of proximity

Gestalt psychology has multiple laws that can be applied in various areas, mobile app design included. This is especially true for the law of proximity, which states that things close to one another appear more related than things further apart.

Users aren’t willing to spend much time learning how the complex app layout works. The law of proximity helps you create an intuitive landing screen to make it easily scannable and understood by users and keep them around for longer.

9. Hick’s Law or the paradox of choice

Hick’s Law states that the more choice items there are on the list, the longer it takes a person to pick one. This means that if there are too many items, users may withdraw because they have to process so much information at once. Therefore, when designing your app, make sure to limit the number of features or options presented to users, perhaps even urging them to decide by suggesting a specific option.

10. Occam’s razor

Similarly to Hick’s Law, Occam’s razor stresses simplicity as well. This problem-solving principle states that “the simplest solution is most likely the right one.”

In app design, this means that overly complicated content should be avoided. So when choosing between two identical designs, simplicity should always be the most influential factor.


Tap into the subconscious

Successfully administering these psychology principles to your app may help you tap into the people’s psyche and draw them in without them even knowing. This is one of the secrets of success for many brands and advertisers, mobile or otherwise. If you’ve developed your app with these principles in mind (pun intended), you may now require help measuring their effectiveness. We have just the right platform, so be sure to drop us a message or request a demo. We’ll be glad to help.

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