Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Cathy Reed

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Rights Information

2021 Lauren K. Widasky


This research effort investigates a key aspect of website design, the user experience. The majority of existing literature focuses on technical aspects of the user experience (e.g., usability); however, technical evaluations and subsequent user interactions are also significantly influenced by the visual appearance and aesthetic design of an interface. Given the abundance of design elements that affect visual presentation, delineating guidelines for user experience/interface (UX/UI) design is broadly challenging. User testing yields informative behavioral indices that help designers to create usable, intuitive designs, which is critical given that perceptions of UX significantly determine e-commerce success (e.g., engagement, conversions, revenue). However, yet to be sufficiently considered are the covert, unconscious mechanisms occurring on a neuronal level that largely dictate user behavior and judgments. Compelling new research incorporates EEG-based measures of neural activity into user and usability testing, providing insight into the relationship between on-line worlds and “off-line” cognitive processes, most importantly, the demand imposed by the UX on user working memory (WM). Understanding cognitive influences on user perceptions of differing web designs helps to ascertain the factors most likely to balance aesthetic appeal with usability, while minimizing users’ cognitive load. The study is built around three related UX designs that are systematically varied across low, moderate, and high levels of visual complexity and cognitive complexity. Participants are randomly assigned to one condition and are instructed to complete a search task response times (RT) are recorded; simultaneously, EEG electrodes placed on participants’ scalps depict cognitive load in theta waves (4-8 Hz). The constructs of visual and cognitive complexity are hypothesized to be related as follows: high levels of cognitive and visual complexity place an overwhelming demand on 8 WM and leave the user susceptible to experiencing cognitive overload, observable among slower RTs (>60 sec.) and high levels of theta-band activity (7-8 Hz); thus, highly complex designs translate to an adverse UX that receives primarily negative user feedback. UX designs with low levels of cognitive and visual complexity are hypothesized to display an inverse relationship. The study fills gaps in understanding of neuroscience’s intersection with human-computer interaction (HCI); this collaboration holds great potential to provide undiscovered means for making more strategic interface design decisions based on cognitive data.

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.