Build unassailable claims with observations at different levels of abstraction

Psychologists make observations about people at different levels of abstraction.

  1. Neurological level
  2. Psychological level
  3. Sociological level

The idea is that, if you can find evidence for your theory at multiple levels, your theory is more likely to be true – it’s more “reproducible”. It’s a form of “data triangulation”, which I hear often in the UX research space.

Somewhere I saw user observations broken into similar levels:

  1. Anthropometrics: capabilities and constraints of the human body
  2. Basic psychology: visual and auditory perception
  3. Low-level cognition: memory, attention, and learning
  4. Higher-level cognition: mental models, problem solving, and decision making
  5. Social cognition and teamwork: social contexts

Note, the lower-levels are more foundational and grounded in hard science; whereas, the upper-levels are more conceptual and “softer”. This is where more practically minded people start to lose interest. Still, there’s utility in these more abstract concepts, especially when trying to connect with humans and succeed within culture at large.

Most of my work deals with the fourth level so I don’t really play between any of them. Stakeholders in industry just don’t need this level of evidence. Still, I think this user model can serve two purposes: build unassailable claims from the bottom up or trace root-causes down the latter. 

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