The Conscious User Experience (CUX) and the unconscious user experience (UUX) dimensions of UXCRO.

UXCRO refers to a conversion rate optimization approach that uses psychology to optimize the utility of online assets. As UX is human centric and thus intimately related to the science of brain processes and human behavior, it’s only natural to part from the behavioralist shoulders of psychology to truly learn about how behavioral changes are inspired by UX.

First you need a clear understanding of both the conscious tip above water of the iceberg that is our users mind and the unconscious gigantic proportion of the unconscious, to this part I like to call UUX or unconscious user experience.

It combines and creates a hybrid methodology that combines conversion rate optimization methodologies with human behavioral sciences as a source of strategy and uses data to validate impact.

The general approach of UXCRO goes from capturing the right kind of attention from the reptilian brain, and keeping it focused on the right kind of information, while addressing the unconscious decision making and emotional theme setting process and finally reinforcing the conscious choice in the right direction.

When creating UX interactions focused on motivating a desired behavioral change, it is done “minding” the unconscious. Douglas Van Praet, focused on influencing the decision making process explains how People make the vast majority of their decisions unconsciously, so we if look at unconscious behaviors of our target audience as well as the conscious rational consumer we are also trying to be, we will have a better chance at learning true insights as we can measure UX and affect it so as to have a positive effect on conversion rates.  

“Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious, asserts that it’s the unaware part of our mind that assembles, interprets, and assesses information and our emotions. We are unable to accurately express why we do something or even how we felt about it. In fact, if asked, we are liable to “concoct” explanations we think will seem to be – even to ourselves – the most logical, plausible and reasonable. We start “sense-making.” In other words, we think up a coherent story in hindsight that turns out to be more of an extrapolated rationalization than a revelation of our true unconscious reasoning. By definition, we don’t have access to the “unconscious” part of our consciousness. However, it CAN be observed and measured. How? By looking at our behaviors, rather than asking us about our thoughts and opinions.” – Source: Human Factors

This leads me to believe that the nature of hypothesis ideation for the benefit of CRO, lies in being able to measure and isolate behaviors after stimulating the unconscious and conscious in a coordinated way, serving each dimension in a complementary way. ( A/B testing is exceptionally great tool for this kind of behavioral observation). And we experiment with different layers that we know can have an impact on the unconscious.

To do that, the testing process must follow a behavioral intervention and for this I will base the steps as prescribed by Van Praet:

I Interrupt the pattern.

“Brands are learned behaviors or expectations of outcomes based upon past experience that eventually become second nature. The pathway to our unconscious and the best way to learn something is through conscious attention. And nothing focuses our attention better than surprise and novelty. That’s because our brain is a pattern recognizer or prediction machine.” – Source

“The reptilian complex, also known as the R-complex or “reptilian brain” was a term coined by MacLean to structures derived from the floor of the forebrain during development, because it seemed to control the more primitive and bestial of behaviors. “it controls our involuntary functions: the beating of our hearts, the working of our organs, and our breathing. It’s in charge of our survival; for our flight, fight or freeze responses, for sexual behaviours, anger in response to danger, and most of all – fear.”

To understand how to evaluate the UX from a reptilian-brain perspective, you need to be aware you are talking about the fastest processes of cognition and its unconscious. So it requires you to think of your landing page and the users interaction with it as though in slow motion, and have an empathetic insight into the neurochemicals and electromagnetic impulses that are happening in the brain. In about 0.2-0.5 seconds, your brain will have already made up its mind about the general idea of your UX. To focus on reptilian-brain stimulus, it’s important to think of creating the right neurochemical mood. “The visual stimulation is the strongest, since we process about 80% of our daily informational intake through our eyes. Additionally, it is important to note that our reptilian brains are not able to tell the difference between a fake image and a real life occurrence. That is why we get hungry when we look at a picture of a juicy burger, even though we know the burger is not real.” – Source

To affect and stimulate the unconscious, we must enter through the conscious. “…It is well known that activating particular stereotypes or traits can trigger related observable behaviors: people can be led to be more intelligent or unintelligent, aggressive or helpful, cooperative or competitive, friendly or unfriendly, etc. This indicates that people adjust their behaviors to match that of their immediate social environment – and they’re not even conscious of it. – source

  • Ideas: Ideas that trigger emotions or mental images affect the unconscious behavior by memory association of previous situations and their emotional context.
  • Self-reflection: People that express themselves, dress and behave similarly to me are people I feel better about.
  • Context(Visuals, Sounds, Textures, Smells, Flavors, social settings): Conditioned behavioral cues, like being quiet at a library, are triggered not only in the library, but when you see pictures of a library. The same thing happens when you associate having fun with your favorite party song. Contextual settings define the unconscious theme being created by the unconscious on the consciences self awareness.

II Create Confort

“The elephant in the room is that the vast majority of our decisions are made unconsciously. (…) When marketers interrupt the pattern, they also have us looking for threats. We have evolved to avoid harm, making us skittish customers. Step 2 is to Create Comfort, which is needed to open us to new possibilities, a state of mind that only occurs with easing tensions and building trust. Before anyone can get excited about your pitch, you need to first engender receptivity to your overture….  ”SOURCE

In other words now you need the brain to be flooded with dopamine, oxytocin,  the hormone that when released by your brain, motivates you to want to learn or see more. So, just share more information as this stimulates dopamine. And it needs to be accompanied by oxytocin, so whatever you share must be soothing and aligning with the preferred states of your persona’s unconscious.

  • Dopamine motivates us to take action toward goals, desires, and needs, and gives a surge of reinforcing pleasure when achieving them. Create dopamine hits by asking questions and sharing images that align with people’s unconscious drives.
  • Serotonin is the cure for the needy social side of use, providing social rewards, recognitions, compliments, gifting and saying thank you, white light environments.
  • Oxitocin is a more intimate sense of identity, a sense of communal membership that implies being part of the bigger group and viewing things in term of the group, not just the self. Images of group loyalty and group physical touch, ( 8 hugs a day can do that for you says self proclaimed Dr. Love ).
  • Endorphins Endorphins are released in response to pain and stress and help to alleviate anxiety and depression. The surging “second wind” and euphoric “runners high” during and after a vigorous run are a result of endorphins. Similar to morphine, it acts as an analgesic and sedative, diminishing our perception of pain.Along with regular exercise, laughter is one of the easiest ways to induce endorphin release.

There are External/Objective Factors: consistent and appealing to natural instincts and reptilian brain should be aligned with theme and conversion goal. Think of it as a little lizzard that is the following:

  • Does not understand complex abstractions. ( But keep in mind there is an unconscious part of the mind).
  • Responsible for directing a human’s attention
  • Understands images
  • Is territorial
  • It gets angry fast
  • Is connected to the heard
  • Wants to eat when hungry
  • Copulate when aroused
  • Dominate any threats to power
  • Hoard the bounty
  • Flee danger
  • Does not learn from mistakes
  • Can override rational thought
  • Difficulty distinguishing between reality and non realities like memory, dreams or media.
  • It understands size comparisons.
  • Is keen to social power relationships
  • Can be conditioned

And don’t forget about the more complex associative Internal/Subjective Factors when setting the mood. These vary with time and context of users, should also be aligned with the conversion goals. They are related to:

  • Interests
  • Habits & Attitudes
  • Occupation and Organizational Ideology
  • Motives & Organic States
  • Emotions
  • Past experiences
  • Learned information. ( Not from personal experience or direct observation)
  • Cognitive Bias

It’s a First Impression, and you need to create  comfort by inspiring oxytocin, endorphines and Serotonine:  

    • Created in the first 0.5 seconds.
    • One message, one call to action.
    • Design looks expensive.
    • Design belongs to industry Conventions. ( Text, Iconography, etc).
    • Value Proposition
      • Headline
      • Sub-headline
      • 3 Bullet Points
      • Big Visual Images
      • Clarity ( 0 space for misinterpretation)
      • Communicates concrete easy to understand results
      • Why is better and/or different than competition
      • Avoids BS Terms and fallacies
      • The 5 Second Test: Can it be read and understood in 5 seconds?


  • Use Big Strong Graphics as a means to communicate and set the tone.


    • All images and graphics should complement the nature of your product. If you’re selling to an older audience, photos of teenagers on your site will be downright confusing.
    • When using images of people, they should be smiling. If the person is next to copy, they should be looking towards it. This is a natural visual cue that directs users’ eyes towards the copy.
    • Don’t go overboard. The goal is for visitors to see what’s essential and nothing more. Anything other than those essentials is a distraction. If you’re having trouble deciding whether or not to include some graphic, chances are you shouldn’t.
    • Go for professional pictures. Whether product photos, background images, or some other type of graphic, don’t settle for a low-quality image. They scream “don’t trust me”.
    • Is it genuine and does it transmit trustworthiness?
    • Does it display people that the users identify with?

III Lead the imagination.

Lead the Imagination. The most powerful tool lies not in the hands of competitors but rather within the minds of people.

That’s because our imaginative abilities evolved not only to invent solutions to life’s challenges but also to make better decisions by envisioning possible outcomes, which explains why stories are so critical to marketers. When you inspire someone to look inward, it becomes their vision, not yours–and the difference between intrinsic motivation and external manipulation. It’s why the book is often better than the movie.”

IV Shift the feeling.

As the neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor puts it, “We live in a world where we are taught from the start that we are thinking creatures that feel. The truth is, we are feeling creatures that think. (…) What we need to do is to rouse hearts, not heads. And inspire the part of us that seeks connection, not separation–through that elusive emotional relevance that marketers say is so critical but also make so difficult to create.  ” – Source

V Satisfy the critical mind.

At this point we have addressed the reptilian brain and the other sectors of the unconscious decision making process, including the rational unconscious, that problem solving magic that happens when we sleep and wake up with an answer we could not figure out the morning before, is actually happening all the time. Many marketers state we make decisions unconsciously most of the time, while the more conscious decisiones happen for very specific things, and this is the conscious dimension.

Then there is the cognitive and conscious Dimension: Like the different layers that make up software, the conscious is the U.I. of the mind, it understands things in a subjective way and this subjective experience is the result of the previously layered dimensions, like the setting for a movie scene. Now we address the story, dopamine boosters! You’ll want to amaze from the start, teach from the start, provide new relevant information like a caffeine addict craves his first cup of dark roast.  But Beware! Of Cognitive load, use it wisely as you don’t know how much brain-power your visitor’s got left. The story starts with the users own intent, he is looking for something and you are there to tell him/her about your product or service, in such a way that it is relevant to his search. In the shortest time possible, in the most tangible and emotional way. Also, this is the end of the slow motion sector. Everything up to this point in the UX since the user was exposed to new information about your website, was about 0.4 seconds.

In the conscious realm, we will work with framing the conscious context in a story that motivates the user in the right direction.  that shapes decision making, you’ll find better and more useful answers to these questions:

  • What decisions do you want your users to make?
  • How can you make each decision easier for them?
  • Where are you asking them to make decisions?
  • Should you minimize the number of decisions made on your site?
  • Where are your “high-friction” decisions?
  • How do the decisions made on your website compare to the competition?
  • Which decisions, when presented, can help to build loyalty?
  • Could you be inadvertently forcing them to waste their mental energy on decisions that don’t even matter?

Decisions happen in two different kinds of places in the brain: The Habit part of the brain, the Conscious Part of the brain. Services of habitual consumption have a different decision making process than services of high conscious relevance (What Job Should I Get, city to move, car to buy, etc ).

Provide all of the critical arguments that make choosing what you are selling the right thing. ( and If you need to lie about this, …change what it is you are selling instead ;). Like Bart Schutz says, do it “with good intent”. You are helping people reach their goals and dreams, satisfy their needs, you are helping others in the long run. Use the force luke, but stay away from the dark side.

In retrospect, the reasoning has a lot to do with particular and rational context, pricing ( and framing it so is contextually a reasonable price), alluring to group behavior ( See how other are doing it and are happy about it), alluring to social credibility ( good reviews, institutional awards, history), cost benefit analysis, delivering it so feasible idea in terms of resources and benefits.

VI Change the associations.

“Change the Associations. If you don’t know the associations you need to change, you don’t know the most important part of branding. When associations shift, so do markets. That’s because when associations shift so do market shares because we learn and make decisions through vast neural networks of associative memory. (…) And even when we uncover the deeper meaning with projective qualitative tools like storytelling, imagery, and metaphors, etc., we still can’t reliably measure these elusive associations in evaluative quantitative tests because respondents remain unaware of them or simply choose not to admit to them” – Source

VII Take action.

Create the experience and the associations by bringing together as many positive emotions and sensorial perceptions as possible while interacting with an appealing story of the benefits and reasons for your product in a clear and concise way, from image to video to physical experience associated with the actions you wish them to take –SOURCE.

To eleveta a customer experience:

  1. The customer got what they expected, not what you expected.
  2. Get the Customer Pleasently Surprised.
  3. Manage Emotion. Have them leave happy.
  4. Make the feel included, an insider, a part of the clan.

A special note in this.

More and more we hear about a socio-cognitive disease that stems out from the raw association of the reptilian-based instincts (Lust, Anger, Aggression, Power,  Food, Rest, Protection, Fear, Competition) with whatever it is someone is selling. Claiming that the abuse of this kind of non-reality based information is distorting our perception of reality to the point of affecting social conciousness, and the complex interactions at a psychosocial level, resulting in a pandemia of psychopathological social behavior, or, in easier terms, media has brainwashed us to the point of becoming non-adaptive. In case this is true, I recommend being and feeling responsible for the “truth” involved in whatever you are saying. In other words, mind the benefits and empathetic good will you are responsible for when using this knowledge. It will allow for long term customer relations and also be aligned against cognitive pollution and its illnesses.

Set the Tone, Get the Team in the Mood

All of this insight should also be resonating at an unconscious level, so remember to appreciate the gut feelings of your graphic designer’s artistic whim’s. Make sure to inspire the artists that will be creating the UX for you, writers, photógraphers… the entire desired UX must be experienced by the people that will be creating it, if even through a presentation.

Remember to A/B test, while the hypothesis might be a model of how your customers psychology works (quantitative), remember to always keep behavior change as the measurement and a clear idea of how this correlates main objectives, approach CRO with the humble postion of scientists, who understand our unconcious bias enough to require an objective scientific approach to validating hypothesis.

J.F. Aguilar

Juan F. Aguilar is a web advisor, a Psychologist and self taught web developer, with over 18 years of experience empowering people to leverage web technologies in a smart and cost effective way. Specifcially in UX, CRO and SEO. Juan has helped over hundreds of web based projects increase their utilities, either as a private contractor or consultant. He has worked with big fast growing brands like,,, and to small and medium sizef businesses trying to maximize their lead generation and general online strategy and results. Connect with Juan on LinkedIn I also write about important social issues of our current times, that are probably very relevant for you, you can find theme here.

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