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The Psychology of Push Notifications
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Have you heard of push notifications?

In case you haven’t, they are the pop-up messages that show up on your screen when you open a new website and ask for your permission to send you more stuff, either educational, promotional or technical.

But regardless of the nature of the request, do you ever clicked “Allow”? Me neither.


I recently became interested to find out more as to what is the psychological effect of this. Namely, does “block” being the first action that your customers take on influence their subsequent online behaviour?

Several psychological biases lead me to believe so.  

Have you ever heard of the anchoring effect? Anchoring is a common cognitive bias that describes the human tendency of the mind to be under the influence of what it has initially perceived. It is a technique that is commonly used in sales. For example, retailers often specify an initial price of a product, usually a high number and then next to it list the current price which is a lower one. In this way, customers, having seen the original price perceive the current price as much lower.


In a similar way, after having declined a permission to a website, or a seller, we are much more likely to decline every subsequent request as a result of that anchor. Moreover, because hitting ”block” has required some thought and logical thinking, it has probably put us in a systematic processing mode and we are, therefore, much more likely to use System 2 for any subsequent decisions.

System 2, however, is our analytical processing, the one that challenges information and overanalyzes decisions. It is the opposite of the mode of processing that sellers want us to use when making spontaneous and emotional decision about their products.

To put it another way, requiring our analytical thinking at the very start of our purchasing journey, we are a lot less likely to rely on System 1 to complete it.


Another psychological phenomenon which might play a role is the primacy effect. It is quite similar to anchoring, however, it emphasises that we are much more likely to remember and focus our attention to items which we have encountered at the beginning than the middle or the end. Following that logic, a “no” given in the beginning has more weight than one given at any other stage.

In conclusion, push notifications are quite invasive and nature and if they are the first message that we come across when starting our online journey we are a lot more likely to act in a defensive fashion and suspicious of everything else that we are being offered.

Benjamin Ligier

by Benjamin Ligier

Benjamin is a CRO Expert at Convertize. He is passionate about design, web marketing and consumer psychology.

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