Daily UX Crash Course — User Psychology: 9 of 31

Ooooh baby. Turn the lights down low. Light some candles and bring out those chocolate-covered strawberries, because it’s time for a deeper look at two motivations that bring people closer together, online and offline.

Motivations 1: Sex & Love


(Just starting the User Psych Crash Course? Start here.)


Sex is the motivation to touch each other’s warm and fuzzy bits, and love is the motivation that feels all warm and fuzzy. Today we will learn about both, and they are surprisingly different. 

But first, a bit of business…


Sex can be a sensitive topic. First of all, it actually is kind of shallow, so don’t be insulted. Second, it’s hard to be respectful enough to everyone when talking about genders and behaviour in a simplified way. I will use the terms “female” and “male” as dumb categories, but let’s be clear that the sexual behaviour of a “man” doesn’t always come with the body of a man, and vice versa. However, if I get too deep into the details, this lesson will get a bit hairy. Pun intended.

I ask, please, for the benefit of the doubt.


There are two basic rules for understanding sexual behaviour:

1) Females are a limited resource. Males are not. Obviously, in nature, if a female is “off the market” while she is pregnant, then males must compete more than females, and be less selective. But it also means that females need to compete for the “best” males more, if they want to have the “best” babies, and be more selective. This isn’t fair, but it’s a good system for keeping the quality of a species high, and that system has worked its way into human psychology too. We’re not slaves to this, but all things being equal, we do tend to lean in those directions. But that is only the beginning.

2) Quality matters. The specifics of what you find attractive (i.e., what you want to “bid” on) can differ based on culture, but in general males are programmed to want healthy babies, and females are programmed to want safe babies. You know, survival. The more a potential partner can offer those things the more attractive they are. But those are broad ideas that are open to interpretation, so our brains look for signals of quality in other people, and that’s where the game gets interesting (from a psychological perspective).

For example, we understand that rare things are more valuable. So if everybody seems attracted to a person, they are harder to get and we will consider them more attractive in the “sexual auction”, or if nobody wants a person, we might consider them less attractive and keep our bidding for someone else. Celebrities, for example, are not necessarily the most beautiful people on the planet, and we don’t know them personally, but because millions of people find them attractive, they rise above the people who are merely beautiful to become sex symbols.

However, our own quality matters too. If you don’t have a hope in hell of getting the “best” partner, like a celebrity, you may try for more of a “sure thing” instead. You will only bid on the auctions that seem like something you would like to have, but ultimately the person who can offer the most will win the auction. So in the end, everybody ends up with the best result they are willing to bid on, but not better. (This is definitely over-simplified, and there are definitely exceptions, but consider this a model, not a rule.)

These two rules may seem simple, but they can lead to interesting scenarios in combination. Like The Bachelor and the Bachelorette (one of which is far more popular!). Or why we look for a “reason” that a beautiful person and an ugly person are together, but we don’t do that when a couple seems like a “perfect match”.

So much drama!

As a UX Designer: provide the information users need to judge “quality” (popularity, physical appearance, etc.) and to find whatever matches the user’s taste in people. That can be as simple as a number of followers and a picture, like Tinder, or you might need videos and descriptions and niche categories, like Match.com.

Porn sites, for example, are actually some of the most active businesses when it comes to A/B testing and optimizing their designs, advertising and search UX. And they have to consider one-handed navigation. Seriously!

We are also motivated to protect our chances of getting sex. A simple bit of text can create a lot of motivation, like: “Profiles with more photos are usually more popular.” Once a user knows that, do you really think they will stick with one photo? As long as more photos = better UX for everyone, it’s a great thing to tell your users.



If sex is shallow and short-term, love is the opposite. It is made of cuddles and hopes and genuine caring. Awwwwwww…

You can love a partner, your kids, or your family, and those are all a little different. This lesson focuses on loving your partner.

Romantic Love, basically, is the motivation to reciprocate motivations with someone else. i.e. — You make them happy, they make you happy. The trick is finding someone who will love you back.

We tend to pick spouses that share our values (you agree about what is good/bad), so you need to design a way for users to find themselves in the crowd.

As a UX Designer: Helping users find love is like helping them shop for a dishwasher. They only need one, and the basics are mostly standard, but everyone has their own idea of what is “perfect”. Provide features to filter, compare, ask questions, save, follow-up, etc.

ProTip: sex is like a gateway drug for love, so a little design-for-attraction is always a good way to get the fire started.


Tomorrow we will learn about the motivations that drive social interactions and gamification. Motivations 2: Affiliation, Status & Justice.