Psychology in UX: Cognitive Biases and Design

Cognitive biases impact UX design by influencing user behavior and enhancing product engagement.

Emilyann Gachko
Emilyann Gachko
May 23, 2024
Min Read

In the evolving field of User Experience design (UX), psychological principles play a pivotal role in shaping the interactions between users and technology. One of the most influential aspects of psychology in UX is the study of cognitive biases—systematic patterns of deviation from norm or rationality in judgment. 

By understanding these biases, designers can create more intuitive and user-friendly products. This article delves into some of the most common cognitive biases and provides real-world examples of how they are applied in UX design to enhance user engagement and decision-making.

Anchoring Bias

Anchoring bias occurs when individuals rely too heavily on the first piece of information they receive (the "anchor") to make subsequent judgments. In UX design, anchoring can influence how users perceive product value and make decisions based on initial impressions. 


A classic example of anchoring in UX is the pricing strategy used by Apple. When Apple introduces a new iPhone, the first price presented tends to set the anchor. Subsequent models are priced around this anchor, influencing how customers perceive the cost and value of different models.

 For instance, if the flagship model is introduced at $999, a slightly less advanced model at $899 seems more reasonable by comparison, even if it’s higher than what the customer initially intended to spend.

Bandwagon Effect

The bandwagon effect is a psychological phenomenon in which people do something primarily because other people are doing it, regardless of their own beliefs. This bias is particularly useful in UX for encouraging user adoption and engagement through social proof.


LinkedIn, the professional networking platform, utilizes the bandwagon effect through its skill endorsements feature. When users visit a profile, they can see the skills listed by the individual along with the number of endorsements each skill has received. This feature taps into the bandwagon effect by suggesting that a high number of endorsements is a validation of the individual’s proficiency in those areas, thus influencing perceptions and interactions in a professional context.

This is a screen shot of endorsements on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn's endorsements and skills features allows users to easily showcase their strengths, creating positive professional perceptions for those visiting profiles.

Loss Aversion

Loss aversion refers to people's tendency to prefer avoiding losses to acquiring equivalent gains. It's a powerful element in decision-making processes in UX, where the fear of missing out on something can drive user urgency and promote the taking of action. 

Example: utilizes loss aversion by showing messages such as “3 rooms left at this price” or “In high demand – only 1 room left!” Such messages create a sense of urgency and scarcity, compelling users to book quickly to avoid missing out. This tactic effectively increases conversions by leveraging the users' fear of losing a good deal.

This is a screenshot of's interface. creates a sense of urgency through messaging that communicates limited quantities of deals.

The Decoy Effect

The decoy effect is a phenomenon observed when consumers change their preference between two options when presented with a third option that is asymmetrically dominated. This bias can be strategically used in UX to guide users toward a preferred choice.


A famous illustration of the decoy effect is seen in subscription models, such as those offered by The Economist. At one point, users were given three subscription options: online-only for $59, print-only for $125, and print-and-online for $125. The print-only option, which costs the same as the combo but offers less, serves as a decoy to make the combo subscription appear more valuable, significantly increasing the likelihood of users choosing the higher-priced option.

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's preexisting beliefs or hypotheses. In UX, this bias can shape how information is presented to reinforce user’s expectations and satisfaction.


YouTube employs a recommendation algorithm that serves as a powerful example of confirmation bias in action. The platform's algorithm analyzes users' past viewing behavior, including videos watched, liked, and the amount of time spent on specific types of content. Based on this data, YouTube tailors the content it displays on each user's homepage and in the suggested videos sidebar. 

For instance, if a user frequently watches technology review videos, YouTube will prioritize similar content in its recommendations. This reinforces the user's existing interests and preferences, making them more likely to engage further with similar content.

The Mere Exposure Effect

The mere exposure effect is a psychological phenomenon by which people tend to develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them. This bias is used in UX to design interfaces that feel intuitive and easy to use.


Google consistently uses a simple and familiar design across all its platforms and products. By maintaining a consistent layout and visual style, from Google Search to Gmail and Google Drive, users develop a comfort and preference for using Google’s services. This familiarity reduces the learning curve for new products and increases overall user engagement.

This is a display of Google's icons across various uses and apps.
Google uses a cohesive style across its various apps to create a sense of familiarity for users.

Serial Position Effect 

The serial position effect describes how the order in which information is presented affects recall, with users more likely to remember the first and last items in a series. This can be leveraged in UX design to emphasize important information or actions.


Medium, the popular blogging platform, employs the serial position effect in the way articles are listed on its homepage and in topic-specific feeds. The platform typically places the most engaging or newest articles at the top of the list and also often features compelling stories at the bottom of the page, which encourages further exploration. 


Understanding and applying the principles of cognitive biases in UX design not only enhances the user experience but also drives better business outcomes. By effectively incorporating these psychological insights into design strategies, UX professionals can more deeply engage users and guide their behavior in desired ways. 

As technology continues to evolve, the integration of psychology and UX design will undoubtedly become even more critical in creating products that are not only functional but also resonate deeply with users on an emotional and psychological level—both consciously and subconsciously. 

Launch a career in ux design with our top-rated program

Top Designers Use Data.

Gain confidence using product data to design better, justify design decisions, and win stakeholders. 6-week course for experienced UX designers.

Launch a career in ux design with our top-rated program

Top Designers Use Data.

Gain confidence using product data to design better, justify design decisions, and win stakeholders. 6-week course for experienced UX designers.