Social networking platforms are designed to keep users engaged and entertained. The success of these popular platforms, in part, is due to how their UX deliberately reduces the negative effects of certain cognitive biases. In this article, we will examine three common cognitive biases and how LinkedIn, TikTok, and Instagram specifically use those principles to impact their UX design decisions, creating a better online experience for their users.

What is a cognitive bias?

A cognitive bias refers to a systematic pattern of deviation from  logical thinking in human cognition. It is a type of mental shortcut or heuristic that our brains use to process information and make decisions. These biases can lead to errors, distortions, or irrational judgments in our thinking. Cognitive biases can manifest in various ways, influencing our perception, memory, attention, and decision-making processes. 

What does cognitive biases have to do with UX Design?

Cognitive biases affect the way people process information, therefore they directly influence how users respond to the designs they see and use. Understanding common assumptions and unconscious preconditions – both the users’ and your own – is critical to successful digital product design.

Here are three common cognitive biases:

  1. Choice Overload Bias: Choice overload describes how, when given more options to choose from, people tend to have a harder time deciding, are less satisfied with their choice, and are more likely to experience regret.

  2. Exposure Effect Bias: The mere exposure effect describes our tendency to develop preferences for things simply because we are familiar with them. For this reason, it is also known as the familiarity principle.

  3. Reciprocity: Refers to the tendency of individuals to feel obligated to return a favor or positive action they have received from someone else. It is based on the social norm of reciprocity, which is deeply ingrained in human behavior across cultures.

UX Design Insights from Social Media Platforms

The amount of time users spend on social media is now higher than ever — 151 minutes per day. This is largely due to the ‘immediate rewards’ and ‘craving for more’ aspects that social media interactions contain. The UX of these platforms mitigate some of the most common cognitive biases, providing a positive user experience.

LinkedIn: Leveraging Reciprocity with Endorsements & Recommendations

The principle of reciprocity is a cognitive bias that suggests people tend to return favors or actions they have received. LinkedIn leverages this bias in a few different ways which fosters a cycle of positive engagement and strengthens professional relationships on the platform.

In the context of UX design, the reciprocity bias can be leveraged to encourage user engagement and foster positive interactions. Here are a couple of ways this bias can be applied:

  1. Endorsements and recommendations: LinkedIn uses the reciprocity bias by allowing users to endorse and recommend their connections. When someone receives an endorsement or recommendation, they often feel compelled to reciprocate the gesture by endorsing or recommending the person back. This reciprocity loop encourages users to engage with each other and strengthen their professional relationships.

  2. Unexpected gestures of goodwill: Surprising users with unexpected acts of goodwill can trigger the reciprocity bias. This could include special discounts, exclusive offers, or personalized messages that show appreciation for their engagement or loyalty. When users receive these unexpected positive experiences, they are more likely to reciprocate by continuing to engage with the platform or recommending it to others.


TiKTok: Combating Exposure Effect Bias with a Personalized User Experience

With over 1 billion active users, this video-sharing app has taken the world by storm. TikTok’s simple UX design juggles a good layout while letting go of the repertoire of tools and features that hamper the user experience of many other apps on the market. 

According to Omnicore Agency, the average internet user has an account on more than 8 different social media platforms. TikTok designers embraced the fact that its users have grown up with other platforms and therefore did not shy away from common conventions that feel “natural” to users. Such conventions include double-tapping to like a video or swiping up to see the next video in the feed.

In the context of UX design, the exposure effect bias can be leveraged to encourage exploration and empower user control in order to create a  more enriching and balanced user experience on the platform. Here are a few ways this bias can be applied:

  1. Content curation and recommendation algorithm: TikTok’s recommendation algorithm plays a significant role in shaping users’ content exposure. It leverages the exposure effect bias by analyzing user interactions and preferences to deliver personalized content recommendations. The algorithm learns from user behavior and continuously presents content that aligns with their interests. By leveraging this bias, TikTok aims to keep users engaged and satisfied by offering content they are likely to enjoy.

  2. For You page: The For You page on TikTok serves as the main feed for users, delivering a constant stream of videos based on their interests and engagement history. This personalized feed introduces users to content they may not have otherwise discovered, ensuring exposure to a broader range of creators, topics, and perspectives. By continuously refreshing the content and adapting to user preferences, TikTok reduces the tendency for users to be repeatedly exposed to the same content, combating the exposure effect bias.

  3. Utilize Familiar Cues: While copying or cloning features from other products is uncreative and anticompetitive, it may be highly rational in some situations. Products that use unfamiliar UI, color palettes, fonts, etc. are not only more difficult for users but users also perceive them as poorer quality.

Instagram: Mitigating Choice Overload Bias with a Minimalist Design

With over 1 billion monthly active users, Instagram’s UI/UX is not only visually appealing, but also extremely user-friendly, making it easy for users to browse through photos and videos.

While there are certainly a multitude of things one can do within the app, Instagram uses a simple layout, never crowding the user’s eye with too many options. Known as “attentional capture,” Instagram avoids involuntary shifts in attention by keeping users focused on one image or video at a time. 

Instagram’s UX design employs minimalist principles to mitigate the choice overload bias and create a streamlined user experience. Here’s how Instagram addresses this bias and how you can incorporate those learnings in your own application:

  1. Simplified interface: Instagram’s design embraces minimalism, focusing on simplicity and decluttering the user interface. The primary screen is dedicated to displaying a single post or a feed of posts, reducing the cognitive load associated with excessive choices. By presenting content in a clean and uncluttered manner, Instagram reduces the likelihood of overwhelming users with too many options.

  2. Focused features and functionalities: Instagram’s UX design prioritizes core features and functionalities, ensuring users can easily perform essential actions such as liking, commenting, and sharing posts. By streamlining the user experience and avoiding unnecessary complexities, Instagram reduces choice overload and allows users to focus on engaging with content and connecting with others. Like Instagram, prioritize reducing friction as much as possible, especially during onboarding. You’ll allow your users to quickly and easily navigate your software which will make for easier adoption and an overall better user experience.

  3. Less is more when it comes to innovation: Plan for incremental improvements and avoid drastic user interface optimizations. This avoids surprising users with unexpected changes, which automatically activates this bias and evokes hesitation and doubt in them.

Does Your UX Need a Health Check?

Combating cognitive biases in social media platform UX design is a significant challenge that requires careful consideration and intentional design strategies. The techniques employed by these social media giants to address cognitive biases and create a more positive user experience offer great insight as you develop or update your software or application. Ignoring these best practices can interfere with an enjoyable user experience and cause you to lose out on revenue-generating opportunities.

If you want to improve your applications’ UX, partner with the Catalyst UX team. In fact, our UX architects and designers can help you create a software concept with a brand-new UX design in just 14 days. Fill out the form below to get started!

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