Interactive Technologies create Memorable Experiences
It’s by now well known that interaction and the processes of human memory are deeply linked; this effect has been proven to be so profound that doctors urge people to stay engaged and active (especially socially) as they age in order to ward off conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Naturally, as we are in a world that is incredibly cluttered with information and visual stimuli (and becoming more so all the time), learning how interactivity can be harnessed to make your brand, product, website, etc. more memorable is of the essence.
The key to why interactivity makes something so engaging and memorable versus “static” content (like plain text) lies in how we learn:
Learning is Multi-Sensory
Human beings evolved to survive in a three-dimensional world, one full of diverse sights, sounds, and smells. The information that we relied on to find food and ward off the danger did not come through anyone channel—it came through multiple channels, often all at once.
The human brain is intrinsically wired around the reward process: receiving sensory data from multiple sources, putting it all together (in order to derive meaning from it), and then performing an action which leads to a tangible, pleasing result. Our emotions exist largely to guide us through this process—joy tells us that eating that food was a good idea, fear warns us that a predator is approaching, and so on.
While our society has changed drastically since we first left the jungles of Africa, our brains have not. They feel, learn, and store memory using these same basic principles. We continue to be motivated primarily by the pursuit of reward and the evasion of harm. We still understand rewarding as being the result of an interactive experience, not a passive experience. We still remember the best things which were either rewarding, or harmful, because our brains wish us to seek more of the former and passionately to avoid the latter.
The above-described mechanics of memory and reward are why games are so enduring popular, even with adults—how many millions of people seem “addicted” to relatively simple games on their smartphones, after all? Such games provide a multi-sensory interaction and reward, one which our brains have not evolved enough to understand has no “real world” benefit, no ability to increase our chances of survival.
This is not, of course, meant to oversimplify human nature into something basic and animalistic; while the core processes of our brains have not changed hugely in the past 10,000 years, they have led to the genesis of many more complex desires, such as the quest for meaning, the desire for self-development, validation, creativity, and so on. Appealing to any of these “core desires” through interaction will produce a sense of reward, and appealing to more than one of them makes it all the more profound. The more a sense of reward is produced, the more memorable the experience will be over the long run.
How the Memory Works
Our memory is in fact not all located in the brain; it’s located throughout the body thanks to the involvement of the nervous system (Gazzaniga,1988), which is one of the main reasons why tactile interaction is so important to forming and keeping memories. Every thought you have is “felt” throughout your entire body, and the receptors for the chemicals in your brain which are needed to sense and remember are found on the surfaces of cells throughout your body.
The memory of a modern human relies on the following mechanisms:
- Sensory input. The more senses are activated by something, the better we remember it.
- Novelty and Intensity. Our developing brains had no need to waste space storing the dull and routine; as such, new and unusually intense experiences are prioritized by the brain.
- Emotions. When we get emotional, the amygdala (a round, pea-sized part in the middle of the brain) immediately reacts and says “this is important!”, causing the brain to store the information in a prominent way.
- Survival. Survival, as discussed above, is a primary motivator, but this goes beyond just physical survival—it may include emotional survival, psychological survival and financial survival.
- Personal importance. Humans are all individual and have their subjective preferences; ergo, we naturally remember things that interest us personally, that have a unique significance to us.
- Repetition. Too much repetition will bore the brain into inaction, of course, but some is often needed to cement a message.
- Order. The brain tends to prioritize what happened first and last during an event (as such, when utilizing interaction, place the most important messages at the beginning and end of the interaction).