Satisfy the Seeking System and Affective Reward System

We can think of design as making something more functional, intuitive, comfortable, and ultimately more desirable; to create happier humans by making daily tasks less cumbersome. But what if making things easier doesn’t actually make us happier? What if the key to happiness is actually by fostering challenge?

Back in the early–mid 1900’s, the dominating theory proposed that humans were motivated primarily by things that served a physiological purpose. They believed that food and sex (extrinsic motivators) were an organisms ‘primary’ drivers, and said organism could thus be conditioned with these types of rewards.

On the other hand, intrinsic motivation refers to the spontaneous tendency to seek out novelty and challenges, to extend and exercise one’s capacity, to explore, and to learn. This exploratory behaviour is being driven by the organisms innate seeking system. The anomaly behind seeking is that it provides seemingly very little utilitarian value — it does not fulfil some physiological needs deficit, but we do it anyway.

Companies know that humans are actively seeking new, novel stuff all the time. That’s what makes the internet such an engaging tool — it gives one the ability, at their fingertips, to exercise their seeking system instantaneously and infinitely.

The satisfaction one gets from seeing new things seems to dramatically increase with dynamic ‘social’ content. Social affects are very powerful behavioural reinforcers, and actually work to enhance ‘seeking’ behaviours, unlike extrinsic rewards.

Would fishing be fun, if every time you tossed in the line, you caught something? The incredibly complex answer to that question is, no. Something weird happens to us when there is randomness to reinforcement — it makes us even more likely to repeat behaviour despite a ‘lag’ or hiccup in the reinforcement stream.

Summing-up: Seeking gives purpose to humans lives. Humans are often at their happiest when they are seeking, learning, exploring, and manipulating-in, and-on the environment around them. If you want to create a product that is engaging and/or addictive, satisfy the seeking system and affective reward system — allow people to explore, express themselves, and receive positive social cues based on their input.

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