Teenagers are often criticised for being “unable to listen” or “ignoring their parents”. How many times have you asked your teenage children to turn down that music, only to be ignored? Well, new research suggests they are not actually ignoring you. It is just that they are better able to focus their attention. The study from the University of Toronto showed that as we get older we are less able to filter out unwanted material which is not central to what we really need to attend to.

Online this phenomenon has important implications. It suggests that younger people who visit websites are much more capable of focusing in on the information that matters and can filter out the annoying distractions of adverts, for instance. However, older people are less able to do this and can be easily distracted – potentially away from your web page.

This suggests a double problem. for younger people they won’t see your advertising, so it will be worthless. For older people, it can be such a distraction it becomes annoying.

Equally, it means you should consider the age of your website visitors. If they are younger, they can filter out any extra material you want to put on your web pages. However, if your visitors tend to be older, you need to have a much more focused website so that the distractions are kept to a minimum.

It is yet another example of where increased knowledge of your visitors can lead to a much better informed website design and functionality. As ever, if you try to appeal to everyone, you face potential problems. What this study showed was that older people tend to give equal processing weighting to peripheral matters as central ones. That means online, for instance, they give as much weight to the “buy now” button as they do to the “next page” one. So which one would you rather they pressed?

Once again, it suggests we need much simpler design online if we are to ensure our website vistors take the actions we want them to.

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