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UX and the Psychology of Storytelling

November 1, 2017

Stories are effective because they appeal to a hardwired way that the human mind works. It’s our natural impulse to impose order and attach meaning to our observations.

In a 1944 psychology experiment, participants watched a short animated film in which three geometric figures — a large triangle, a small triangle, and a small circle — move around and within a rectangle shape with a ‘door’. Participants in this study then described what they saw.

The researchers, Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel, discovered that participants assigned all kinds of personality characteristics and motives to these simple shapes, generating compelling plots about an ‘aggressive’ large triangle, the ‘helpless’ circle, and the ‘hero’ small triangle. Sometimes the plot centered on love, or cheating, or sometimes it was a parenting saga.

More recently, seven comedians interpreted this short film for USC Institute for Creative Technologies, which is a very entertaining watch… The film simply depicts lines and shapes in motion, yet our brains fill in so much more.

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