Brain Rules For Bloggers: Exploit The Senses, (Especially Sight)

by ToriDeaux on June 2, 2008

This is Part Five of the Brain Rules for Bloggers series, based on
John Medina’s book & dvd, Brain Rules.   And yes, I know I promised
this segment would include sex, but it doesn’t.  Next time,  it’ll be about sex,  I promise… but for now, it’s all about stimulating senses.

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Brain Rule #9:  Stimulate More Of The Senses (and stimulate your blog readers)

We experience the world (and blogs) through our senses – and the more our  senses are involved in an experience, the more likely we are to understand and remember it.

More importantly, our senses work as a team, each providing context and meaning to the others, so that what we see influences how we interpret what we hear, and so on. We process our senses in an integrated way, and we remember what our senses have told us n an integrated way – the more our senses are involved in an experience, the more accurate our recall will likely be.

Bloggers are (thankfully) limited in the senses  we can integrate in our blogs.  We can’t reach out and touch our readers, and we can’t barrage them with exotic scents  – can you imagine the potential for abuse?  (oh, the humanity!)

But we do have access to connect to our visitor’s eyes and ears;  using visual and auditory cues can help or hinder readers as they process our blogs. How?    Research by cognitive psycholigst Richard Mayer provides some clues:

  1. Students learn better from words and pictures than words alone
  2. Students learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented simultaneously, rather than successively.
  3. Students learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented near each other rather than far from each on the page or screen.
  4. Students learn better when extraneous material is excluded rather than included.
  5. Students learn better from animation and narration than from animation and onscreen text.

- Borrowed From Brain Rules, by John Medina


What does this mean to bloggers? G
raphics  are more than eye  candy; relevant images, presented in the imagecontext of your posts, can help readers better comprehend and remember the information you present.    (Relevant ideally means more than a questioning little blue man, but hey, I was in a rush tonight.)

Multimedia elements, audio podcasts, video blogs, printable worksheets and interactive flash applications  are gaining in popularity with bloggers for  a reason – they help people to process and remember information.  That makes them excellent blog tools for educating readers, or just helping them to remember who you are.

But make sure the elements you add are relevant to your content.

If your blog is about the local club scene, it makes sense to have a widget that plays dance tunes, but if your topic is backyard gardening, don’t blast your readers with the theme to Star Wars  or with a counter that declares how many times you’ve seen StarWars, Episode IV.   Every extra element – audio, visual, or text – that doesn’t reinforce your message distracts from it.  Remember the lessons about attention?

So weigh the impact of any unrelated extras in your posts; are they really necessary?  Do you earn enough from Adsense to offset the negative impact of irrelevant materials? Are the  inline text ads,  popups  from Snap-pages and Amazon relevant to your material, or are they hurting your reader’s ability to grasp the overall all message with no real benefit? This doesn’t mean ads shouldn’t be used, but the trick is in finding a balance.

Your reader’s brains don’t just process your words; they process the  experience of your blog,  through the information provided by their senses.  Stimulate more of their senses in ways that make your blog memorable, and reinforce your core message, rather than distract from it.

Brain Rule #1o: Vision Trumps All Other Senses
(so help your blog readers *see* your points)

"See my point?" said the funny blue man.Although all of our senses are integrated, visual input is usually more powerful than any other – so pay special attention to the *look* of your blog, and what that look communicates.

Because vision can over ride the other senses, the visual impression a reader receives influences the way they perceive your written message.

If your blog looks scattered and confusing, visitors are likely to interpret your writing as confused and scattered, no matter how clearly it’s actually written.    On the other hand, if your blog looks professional, readers will more likely view your writing as professional and authoritative, even if you may sometimes be faking it a bit.    Warm or distant, focused or happy, the overall visual impact of a webpage can strongly influence how a reader processes the content.

So match your blog design to both your topic and  style.   A casual, brightly colored theme is great for a parenting blog, but not so great for reporting business trends.   At the same time, an overly professional or sterile theme can make your writing seem cold and distant.   Consider your design as part of your message – your reader’s brains will interpret it that way.

Individual post illustrations  can add to an article’s mood and  tone, provide insight and information, or  distract, confuse and mislead, so choose them carefully.   And keep in mind how your posts appear in feedreaders,  too -many people  read  blogs exclusively via RSS – which means the use of headings and illustrations have to do double duty when it comes to setting tone and communicating messages.

Consider creating diagrams and labeled graphics to engage your readers visual senses.  Moving elements are especially powerful, so think about Megaphonebuilding a flash animation to help illustrate your blog’s core message, or post an occasional video blog.

Even if you don’t have the time, skills or inclination to create videos, build  animations or create complex illustrations,  think carefully abou t the visual impact of your blog, and just what it is that you’re broadcasting,  visually…

If you’re looking for rules 1-9,  you can find them listed below( Note that some posts cover more than one rule).   And be sure and visit the Brain Rules website for multimedia content that’s WAY more stimulating to the senses than I can manage with my limited budget ; )



{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dawn 06.02.08 at 12:20 pm

I just saw the movie, 21 (the one about counting cards in Vegas) and when people were being trained, flashcards were used to help them remember cues, employing the visual sense. And I know that when I memorize something, mostly what I recall when I remember it is how it looked (in my notes, in a book, etc) when I was learning it. Interesting stuff.

2 Bonnie 06.02.08 at 6:13 pm

Thanks for the tips, Tori. I’m listening to “Brain Rules” on CD during my long commutes to and from work (I’m only up to the “Sleep” Rule so far… and I’m hitting the nap zone as I’m typing this ;-) . Fascinating stuff! I’m also reading a book called “The Back of the Napkin” which explains how to use simple drawings/images to show, communicate & sell ideas. I’m not sure how to use that with a blog (you’ve got me thinking about it)… but I like how the two concepts (vision being the most important sense; showing ideas vs. just telling them) balance and reinforce each other. One of these days I’m going to… zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

3 Puncuk 06.04.08 at 1:21 am

I had a wonderful math teacher at high school – one of the most effective things he did was to pass out a blank index card several days before an exam (usually a 3X5 in algebra and geometry, later 5X7 for more complicated subjects like trigonometry and calculus) that would be the only thing we were allowed to bring into the exam. He would allow us to fill the index card with any formula, note, cheat, picture, diagram, anything we liked that might help in the exam. This being an age before Excel spreadsheets and personal printers, for days, we would all write everything in by hand, some going as far as cramming miniscule writing that required a magnifying glass to decipher. Almost without exception, noone would have to refer to a single thing on their card during the exam. I still think if we were allowed to use our textbooks, or a pre-printed formula sheet, none of us would have learned what we were supposed to.

4 Tori Deaux 06.04.08 at 9:29 pm

Dawn: I hadn’t thought about flash cards until you mentioned them, but… it makes a lot of sense.

Bonnie: WAKEUP!!! Naptime is over ;) And you’re very welcome.

I’ve heard a lot about “Back of the Napkin” but haven’t read it. The concept reminds me of those CommonCraft videos with the simple drawings on paper – I’ve been wanting to make something along those lines for some tough to describe brain concepts.

Puncuk:That’s a great idea your teacher had! There really is (for me at least) a clear difference when I write something down, especially long hand. I can type it, but it doesn’t get into my brain the same way. I’m sure it has to do with the different areas in the brain that are activated.

BTW, I love 3×5 cards. I used to use them to organize thoughts. Now, I mostly use them to jot notes on –notes which I’ll never refer to again, but which help me to sort ideas.

I’m really fascinated by this engaging different parts of the brain thing, if you cant tell!

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