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Why it's hard to fight the urge to press a red button

Updated: Jan 30

Big Red button

Red Button Effect

The psychological phenomena known as the "red button effect" can be shown by the desire to click a red button when it is presented.

The powerful aesthetic and psychological attraction of the colour red is thought to be the cause of the effect.

When we see a red button, these connections may cause us to feel compelled to take action immediately.

Red is commonly connected with feelings of urgency, danger, and excitement. The impact known as the "red button effect" can be observed in a broad variety of contexts, including the creation of red emergency stop buttons and the placement of red call-to-action buttons in marketing materials.

Don't think about a Pink Elephant & the Ironic Process Theory

"Ironic process theory" or "rebound effect" describes thinking about a pink elephant when told not to. According to this notion, suppressing thoughts or activities makes us think about them more. We may find it hard to stop thinking about something when someone instructs us not to.

Ironic process theory relates to brain processing. Our conscious and unconscious brains process information. The unconscious system controls respiration and heartbeat, whereas the conscious system controls our ideas and activities.

When we conceal a notion, our conscious system concentrates on it. This activates the unconscious system, making thought suppression harder.

Hence, when we continually watch ourselves for not thinking about a notion, it tends to come back.

Only Push In An Emergency

The ironic process theory also explains why "push only in an emergency" signs make people desire to click the button. The sign's obvious advice not to touch the button unless it's an emergency awakens the conscious system and calls attention to it.

Hence, the unconscious mechanism may engage, making hitting the button more likely. Notwithstanding the sign, clicking the button may become the focus of attention, increasing the impulse to do so. The instruction not to click the button may also make the thought of pressing it more salient, forcing people to focus on it.

Hence, the more we attempt not to think about clicking the button, the more our brain becomes fixated on the notion, making us more likely to do so. With the pink elephant example, the more we attempt not to think about something, the more our brain focuses on it, increasing our urge to do or think about it.

Designed around pink elephants and human urges:

The My SOS Family emergency call app red button is designed to work with rather than against human nature , in particular the Ironic Process Theory because we understand that urge to press a red button;

Just like in the example in the video / GIF above;

We've engineered the app so it can't be set off accidently or when someone can't fight the urge and decides to tap the app.

You've got to hold the button for two complete seconds.

We display a blue marker that completes a circle around the big red button and another at the top that moves from left to right, only when it reaches the end or completes the circle - which takes 2 complete seconds will alerts be sent.

This drastically reduces the number of false positive emergency alerts as people can satisfy their urge and hit the button.

There's hundreds of hours that has gone into each feature and function of the My SOS Family App, the most important part is we've hidden it all so it seems obvious and intuitive - that's what good design is, it's not about just looks and marketing, it's about design and understanding.

We'd love to hear your ideas:

If you've got an improvement idea for the My SOS Family App. or service, please get in touch via the contact details in the footer of the website, or email us at and we'd love to hear your ideas.

If you haven't tried My SOS Family App or Alexa Skill, or added the service to any simple cellphone or landline via the phones native Speed-dial function we recommend looking around the website, but better still, download the app and try it free with our no-obligation, no credit card details asked for, day (free) trial.



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