6 affects of the orienting response that you were probably unaware of


I was looking through old class notes from a visual communication theory class I previously had and found a ton of cool info on a biological response called the “orienting response.”  I thought those of you who don’t already know about it might be interested to find out, so if you think you might be, read on!

What is this response I’m talking about??

Coined by Ivan Pavlov in 1927, the orienting response is our instinctive visual or auditory reaction to any sudden or novel stimulus.  It’s a deeply rooted survival instinct acting as our body’s built-in sensitivity to movement and potential predatory threats.  There are actual physical measures of this response that include the dilation of blood vessels as well as a decrease in heart rate.  This type of physical response allows the body to gather information about what stimulus it’s taking in.  You can think of it as your body’s way of saying, “Stop and pay attention!”

While we might not rely on this response to avoid predators as much anymore, it still kicks in…just for much different reasons.  In other words, the cavemen probably would have never guessed that someday a television would take the place of a dinosaur waiting to eat them 😛

Here are 6 ways our orienting response affects us today (you’ll be surprised):

1. The reason educational shows like Sesame Street can hold a child’s attention so well is because the frequency of edits from one camera angle to the next are designed to compliment our orienting response.  The amount of ‘novelty and surprise’ created by this technique increases attention, recall and learning.

2. On the other hand, too much novelty and surprise can cause fatigue.  Have you ever watched a TV show attentively, but found that you still felt tired and worn out when it ended?  That’s the feeling you get when your orienting response is overworked.

3. The worst-case scenario is that your orienting response could flip out and land you in the hospital.  Seriously.  In 1997, 700 Japanese children were rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with “optically stimulated epileptic seizures.”  Turns out they were all watching Pokemon and the nonstop bright flashing nature of the episode caused their orienting response to go into panic mode.

4. The rapid cutting and unrelated scenes found in music videos can hold viewer attention, but the only information conveyed is non-factual information like impressions and moods.

5. Because of the orienting response, infants as young as six to eight weeks old can attend to a television screen.

6. Video gamers are also affected by the orienting response, but in a slightly different way.  Why?  Because there’s more interactivity involved with playing video games.  However, playing them for long periods of time in one sitting can wear players out to the point of dizziness and motion sickness.

The orienting response has been around for at least 50,000 years!!!  That’s a long time, especially considering that we don’t depend on it for survival anymore.  I hope you learned something and as always–feel free to comment so we can continue the conversation 🙂


first impression of google glass

After watching this video introducing Google Glass, I have mixed feelings about the product.  Sure, what we can do with technology is great.  Google Glass has really sweet features and they remind me of LeVar Burton’s Star Trek glasses.

BUT, just because we can produce such innovative technology as Google Glass doesn’t mean we should, right?  Take texting and driving, for instance.  Similarily, the Google Glass/automobile combination sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.

The other thing that has me worried is the affect something like Google Glass will have on our visual attention.  Have you ever witnessed other people at a concert (or any significant event) recording it on their cell phones instead of actually just being there and experiencing it in the moment??  I’m guessing that Google Glass will amplify that tendency x 1000 and I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing.

So anyway, that’s my initial take on Google Glass.  Feel free to comment with any other thoughts you might have, I’m interested to know what everyone else’s general first impression is!

the more you know the more you see

Remember those word problems in math class that went something like, “Johnny picked 35 apples today.  Tomorrow Sally is coming over to bake apple pies with him.  Sally lives 15 miles North of Johnny and there is a 90% chance it will rain at 2:30pm, so what temperature will they need to set the oven at?”  Those were not my thing.  Despite all of those headaches though, I did learn a thing or two about myself: a) I might never outsmart my dad, and b) that I’m a visual learner.  I think I’m actually a very visually stimulated person in general.

I find a lot of joy in little things that I see throughout the day, sometimes it’s as simple as a clever advertisement.  Other times, it’s quite the opposite.  The other day I spotted a hawk flying in front of me on the bike path and I thought “oh, cool!” until I realized the hawk was ripping a crow to shreds and leaving a trail of feathers behind.  Not so much joy from that one, but you get the point.  If you open your eyes and look around, your day is guaranteed to be a lot more memorable.

That being said, understanding how and why the brain processes visual information is like gaining access to a gold mine of invaluable knowledge.  70% of our brain’s sensory cells are used for visual perception, leaving only 30% to the other four senses.  With a statistic like that, it’s hard to ignore the obvious biological importance of our visual brain.  Not to mention the benefits we could reap from understanding why our minds work this way!

The aim of this blog is to provide an information base for those of you who want to learn more, tools that can be used to visually enrich your life and/or design skills, and an online community where you can engage with others who share the same curiosity and value for the visual brain.

As Aldoux Huxley once said, “The more you know, the more you see.”  I couldn’t agree more.  In fact, I’m confident enough to dedicate a whole blog that proves it  😉