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The lizard brain

November 1, 2012by Alexandra Brăslașuin Design concepts2 Comments
As I recently developed an interest in what is called ‘the lizard brain’ (inferior part of the brain concerned with survival – amygdala), I wanted to know how its existence and functionality has a contribution in the process of design.
Therefore, I sank deeper and so far discovered that:
The lizard brain is the one which passes barely conscious judgements for our immediate actions, acts upon the muscles and awakes the rest of the brain. Concerned with survival, it has adopted a role as counselor for our social survival, letting us create our ‘comfort zone’, first impressions, and other subjective judgements (good or bad, safe or dangerous). What we like to call instinct also resides in the inferior part of our brain.

Amazingly, the lizard brain is present in everything we do. That part of the brain which controls emotional reactions will change the way we think, based on its impressions – positive and negative – and one cannot escape it.

The designer is concerned with two instances of the lizard brain – his own and his user’s. Suspending judgement is very important to get the creative work done and also to determine the user to be open minded when using a product. The lizard brain calculates risks and allows one to accept the unknown and the new, or in other words, keeps the mind opened or closed. It has to be considered when a certain response or action is expected. Handling or acting with emotion is the first step in earning trust and fondness.

A relatively new focus in design is making products easy to use and emotion has a considerable role on our experience with them. A well known figure in the research on emotion and cognition, who explains why attractive things work better is Donald A. Norman:

“Emotion is a necessary part of life, affecting how you feel, how you behave and how you think. Indeed, emotion makes you smart. Without emotions, your decision making ability would be impaired.”

One strong emotion that people usually ‘possess’ is fear. Two kinds of it are the most often: fear of speaking in public (the judgement of others) and fear of death. So how will design contribute to scatter fear? How many levels of need will be touched by the design? As most people have the physiological and safety needs covered, designers should address the higher needs. The way to reach upper levels in Maslow’s pyramid is opened by control over the lizard brain.

You would think design tricks the eye, but in reality is really tricking the eye of the mind.
All in all, design works on three levels (visceral, behavioral and reflective), going bottom up or top down. Considering emotional reactions is part of a successful design, to have what it takes to get beyond instinctive judgement and to further grow on the users (through usability, function, form). If you are a bit concerned, or have any interest in transforming any environment in a positive way, you need to be self conscious, aware of the interactions that construct reality, and most important, the way humans respond to them (consciously or subconsciously).

Seth Godin: Quieting the Lizard Brain from 99U on Vimeo.

*Why we love (or hate) everyday things


Alexandra Brăslașu

One of the youngest girls in our team, Alexandra is into the great qualities of humanity: kindness, honesty, truth and fairness. She loves the smell of ink on paper and remembering her dreams when she wakes up.

Enjoys freedom and to have fully control over her decisions and knows how to take advantage when opportunities knock on and she’ll always be eager contributing to making things better. You just have to give her challenges and stakes and great things will happen.


What do you think?