Hold Me Tight And Engaging Websites

Beatles’ fans will remember an early song from the Liverpool favourites when they hear those evocative words. Hold me tight is a straightforward and direct message so what does that have to do with websites?  The link may escape you but read on and all will become clear.  The progression of ideas runs as follows

Hold Me Tight

Hold me tight is also the title of a book by Sue Johnson.  It sets out the key principles involved in the EFT approach that she has developed over thirty years.  Sue Johnson is a professor at the University of Ottawa.  She is also the Director of both the International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (ICEEFT) and the Ottawa Couple and Family Institute Inc..

The book covers a most important topic and here we pick up on only one small sliver of the knowledge she covers.  A key reason why two people in a relationship may get at cross purposes is that the couple are hardwired to react instinctively if they feel that their relationship is threatened.  To fully understand, you should read her book, but the essence is that this threat of losing that key relationship triggers an extremely rapid primal fear instinctive reaction.  This occurs in the amygdala, which is part of the limbic area of the brain.

This is the area in which the fight or flight reaction is triggered when threats occur.  You might almost say that this is unthinking reaction, since it occurs unbidden and instantaneously.  Any primate or indeed any mammal has this possibility of being affected by such a primal fear of losing a connection with a significant other.  It starts at birth with a link between a mother and child and is always a feature of our human nature although linkages may change over time.

Her thesis is that subsequent actions and reactions are all affected by what happens in those first microseconds of primal reaction.  Although our reaction to a given website will rarely involved anything as gripping as a primal fear, it is not too much of a stretch to believe that reactions to a web page are not just affected by what is logically perceived.  Perhaps they can be affected by how our emotions affect that perception.

Three Brain Synergy

The words of Sue Johnson to an extent are in sync with the approach suggested by Fritz Glaus and Stephen Goldberg, cofounders of Three Brain Synergy.

They suggest that each human being in a sense has three brains, which have been labeled ”head brain”, ”heart brain”, and ”gut brain” by the neuroscientists.  The head brain is concerned with logical reasoning, the heart brain deals with emotions and the gut brain deals with those instinctive reflex actions generated by the limbic area of the brain.

Humans will react in any given situation based on how these interacting parts of their brain function are interacting.  Sue Johnson’s work is building on the same foundation.  In both cases the gut brain, or the limbic area, may have already triggered a certain sense which then affects and perhaps limits the actions that the other parts of the brain can consider and act on.

Blink For Fast Reactions

Malcolm Gladwell has written persuasively on the notion that people can react to websites in milliseconds in deciding whether to stay and interact with the website or flee elsewhere.  The specific trigger may not be as primal as the fight or flight reaction but undoubtedly it can be very rapid.  Given that it happens, we should not discount the notion that our reaction to a given web page is not just a logical, intellectual response to seeing what the web page displays.  Our emotions and even our gut reaction may modify or distort what our thinking brain is perceiving.

Engaging Websites

The most reasonable description of our reaction to a web page must be that the perception is made up of our logical, emotional and even gut reactions to what is on display.  This will also be affected by our expectations of what we might see in opening that web page.

If we wish to have engaging websites where visitors interact with the web pages by pursuing the calls to action, then we cannot just rely on a logical analysis of what appears on the web page.  As so often, we must approach this in a visitor-centric manner.  What is the visitor expecting to see and what will their three brains working in concert perceive when the web page opens in their browser.

Identifying exactly how a given visitor is perceiving the web page may be challenging.  Not everything will be necessarily perceived consciously.  Some aspects may be instinctive and unspoken.  All one can do is stay open-minded to the possibilities.  What may appear to be an illogical reaction may be explained by some emotional factor.  This three brain synergy explanation raises some interesting challenges for the search engines and what they are attempting to do.  Google might hope to deliver the most relevant web page to a keyword search query.  If that relevance should really be based on a tri-brain perception, how can a spider using only logic deliver the most relevant page.  The answer will be suggested in a follow-up post.


In the end, one can only hope that the visitor’s total reaction is in line with the objective we had for that particular web page.  Hold Me Tight is in many cases a worthwhile goal to shoot for.

4 Replies to “Hold Me Tight And Engaging Websites”

  1. Great post – web design is not my greatest strength i dont have the “flair” but i do realise that what works is simplicity combined with infomation – just like this blog 🙂

  2. What turns me off are webpages with black or dark-colored designs/background and has lots of green/flashy-colored ads floating around from top to bottom. Lots of banner images? That’s another thing. I despise that although it doesn’t always mean I’m gonna close the page. Perhaps I might continue to read if the informatin is well worth it. Or at least the content I was looking for is not buried more than halfway down the entire length of the page just because all the adsense and affiliate links are on top of it.

  3. I’d also suggest Neuro Web Design: What Makes Them Click by Dr. Susan Weinschenk of Human Factors International. She speaks to the head/heart/gut brains as well and even cites a good deal of studies on the topic. Great post!

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