back to article If this headline was a security warning, 90% of you would ignore it

Developers, advertisers, and scammers be warned; boffins say your pop ups will be almost universally ignored if they interrupt users. The work examined how users respond to web-based messages during times of varying concentration and found users who are engaged deeply in some task will ignore pop ups. The university quintet …

  1. Ole Juul

    Perhaps popups aren't the way to communicate this

    The reason is that we're collectively rubbish at multi-tasking, leading the team to say 90 percent of people clicking ignore, dismiss, or cancel when legitimate but distracting messages appear.

    I may be bad at multitasking, but that is not the relevant info here and I suggest the above statement may be an assumption and nothing to do with science beyond being perhaps made by a scientist. I personally dismiss all popups as fast as possible because that is the most efficient use of my time. Experience has shown me that the less time I spend looking at them the better for me. So, I concentrate only on hitting that X as quickly as possible.

    Also, I'm probably not the only one who doesn't use a GUI for administrative tasks, which is where security warnings are particularly important.

    1. Nick Kew Silver badge

      Re: Perhaps popups aren't the way to communicate this

      "Bad at multitasking" here presumably means "don't want some idiot interrupting uninvited".

      I do often take notice of popups. Just enough notice to adblock the buggers and get rid of them for good.

  2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    DINGG!! "I'm sure you don't want to not install Windows 10 not later!"

    These people, many of whom seem unaware of their freakish skills, are able to process multi tasks with high levels of proficiency.

    What kind of multitasks are these? Chewing gum and walking on the same time? Solving nonlinear differential equations in the head while doing complex Aikido moves while thinking about what to offer the wife for dinner while thinking about buying a dog?

    Context, Watson, context!!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: DINGG!! "I'm sure you don't want to not install Windows 10 not later!"

      I don't consider it true human multitasking unless one can write two dissimilar intellectual pieces simultaneously, one in each hand, with both hands moving at once. My most common example is the Declaration of Independence with the left hand the Constitution with the right.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Anyone who boasts to me to be able to multitask gets asked to finish that report and converse with someone on the phone at the same time.

        If said person can effectively hold a conversation while continuing to type the report, then I'll admit that multitasking is possible.

        Haven't seen it yet.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          That may be easier than you think. Don't people hold conversations and do handwork like knitting all the time?

        2. W4YBO

          "Haven't seen it yet."

          Agreed. Humans don't multitask, we time divide.

    2. Jeffrey Nonken Silver badge

      Re: DINGG!! "I'm sure you don't want to not install Windows 10 not later!"

      If you want context, follow the link and RTFA.

  3. Tromos

    "posterior frontopolar prefrontal"

    Am I the only one that reads that as "Behind, front, before the front"?

    1. Hollerithevo Silver badge

      Re: "posterior frontopolar prefrontal"

      As you were, Pike!

  4. BobChip

    Substantiating the obvious

    Sadly, I suspect that the only business sector to study this set of findings and attempt to apply them will be the adslingers. If any of them can actually read and understand the paper (PDF), that is. So some hope remains...

  5. Known Hero

    If this headline

    Were in news bytes I would definitely ignore it.

  6. Dan 55 Silver badge

    MS haven't taken this advice onboard for Windows 10, it needs more babysitting than ever

    "You need to fix your Microsoft Account for apps on your other devices to be able to launch apps and continue experiences on this device."

    Carry on with this notification and the computer will get what it's asking for, I'll neuter it with a blunt knife.

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: MS haven't taken this advice onboard for Windows 10, it needs more babysitting than ever

      Installing another OS isn't "neutering" the computer.

      And if any neutering is to be done it's clearly to be done to the people who came up with stuff like the example you quote. No blunt blades though; this isn't meant as a punishment as such, this is meant to protect future generations.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: MS haven't taken this advice onboard for Windows 10, it needs more babysitting than ever

        It definitely said that I had to fix it.

  7. TeeCee Gold badge

    Makes sense.

    The only pop-ups I've seen in ages are those telling me that "Android devise is in damage by four virus" or similar.

    I ignore them.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    the real issue

    This is partly upside down, and misses the main point by miles.

    It's because we're multitasking, and using multiple apps at the same time, that we can't be constantly interrupted by popups and messages, and when they happen we shoo them away like annoying flies. The implication of this article is that if we were supposedly good at multitasking, then we'd happily use multiple apps at the same time and deal with their continuous multiple interruptions happily, in a quadratic explosion of waste of our time spending more time context switching than doing anything useful. This is already recognised as a major modern productivity problem, and we're dealing with it in machines using multiple cores. But we've only got one brain, and at least for all conscious activities requiring concentration (anything that requires thinking, not digesting or smoking), it's a single core.

    Developers need to stop acting like their app is the center of our world and the only thing we do our care about in our daily activities. I simply uninstall them and use others otherwise.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: the real issue

      "Developers need to stop acting like their app is the center of our world and the only thing we do our care about in our daily activities."

      Trouble is, the most common offender in this case is the OS, which IS the center of your computer basically. Not only that, many of its warning are legit: stuff like "You're about to do something potentially stupid!" or "This process says you told it to format your main drive. Is this right?" There are some things you just can't ignore, just as it is with driving where you're paying attention to so many things, but every so often something comes along that just HAS to get your attention (like "Detour - Road Blocked").

  9. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

    "Remind me later"

    Actually here's how I see it: Most computer users don't actually understand the messages that their computer pops up - even the ones that say "A web site unexpectedly wants to take your credit card number. Y/N" So they just hit Y, because otherwise they don't get to do the fun things.

    Also - in the workplace, all too often, your IT department hasn't got things quite right, and you are instructed to click on "I accept the risk of catastrophic data exposure" every day when you log in.

    In... at least one workplace I have known.

    So the message is - ignore the message.

    It's not right, is it.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: "Remind me later"

      So how do you solve the problem without the fakes coming up with a way to disguise themselves as genuine alerts and creating more Cry Wolf Syndrome?

      1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        Re: fakes

        I seem to recall Yahoo introducing a graphic of your choice to display on genuine messages from Yahoo - or something like that. Fake system messages wouldn't be able to mimic that.

        Also, you can simply block popups in your web browser, except for whitelisted sites that you want to allow.

        I think the principal issue is to make the user receive and correctly deal with system messages and not to ignore them or to click "OK" to the wrong ones. In that context, it's a matter of web sites or apps that take unexpected and inappropriate actions, that you want to block. And then also stop using the site or the app as soon as you can find a substitute.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: fakes

          "I seem to recall Yahoo introducing a graphic of your choice to display on genuine messages from Yahoo - or something like that. Fake system messages wouldn't be able to mimic that."

          Unless someone hacks your Yahoo account and learns it, THEN creates fake popups...

  10. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    The problem is is that popups have trained us that popups are annoying interuptions that should be got rid of as fast as possible so you can get on with what you were doing. So, anything that is presented as a popup is screaming that it is useless irrelevant nonsense that should be ignored.

  11. Bloakey1

    "If this headline was a security warning 90% of you would ignore it"

    Actually that is a right load of tosh. Perhaps you ought to put in the average user or naive user. Your 'readership' are highly technical savvy people and the 'you' that you refer to is not the us that I would like to refer to.

    So we may be Tards, we can be basTards and wear leoTards but reTards we are not.

    Please do not generalise.

    1. Hollerithevo Silver badge


      But never Wusstards.

  12. Gene Cash Silver badge

    The real problem

    Is that popups are usually unreadable garbage, even if you're a computer tech.

    Over the years I've had many popups where I've sat there with a WTF? on my face and just clicked "yes" without really understanding the consequences.

    Some of it is "it's gotta fit in a popup" and some of it is "nobody will ever see this" so we monkey-dance on the keyboard to get it written and move on.

    Granted, at work I've submitted wording for popups and by the time it's gone through all the approvals, even I can't understand it.

  13. Dan 55 Silver badge

    "One weird update is available, you wouldn't believe what it does! Click 'yes' to learn more."

    Maybe that'll be more successful.

    1. Hollerithevo Silver badge

      Re: "One weird update is available, you wouldn't believe what it does! Click 'yes' to learn more."

      "See what it looks like now!"

    2. Mr Humbug

      Re: "One weird update is available, you wouldn't believe what it does! Click 'yes' to learn more."

      "The ten updates that the best people are installing today"

  14. Doctor Syntax Silver badge


    People doing work that needs concentration concentrate on their work.

  15. Reading Your E-mail

    Right idea, wrong reason

    Pop-ups are like car alarms, when they go off nobody really looks anymore as you become immune to the repeated false alarms. The propeller heads have managed to abuse pop-ups so badly that they get immediately closed without a look, as 95% of the time they will be garbage, the resultant popups from all websites thanks to the cookie laws hasn't helped either.

    More quality research there then...

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Right idea, wrong reason

      "Cry Wolf Syndrome," in other words.

  16. Joe Harrison Silver badge

    The clever way...

    The pop-up reads "Important security information - click here to read it (NSFW)"

    Everyone would click that, maybe even bookmark it for when they got home.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not exactly news

    This is something that's long been known within the field of Man-Machine-Interfaces.

    It is especially important in aerospace, where sometimes you *really* need to get the crew member's attention - even when they are busy trying to stop the plane from falling out of the sky.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Not exactly news

      But at least in that field, the number of potential alerts is limited simply because there are so few agents capable of throwing an alert.

      But on a personal computer, every program and web page out there has the potential to do it, to the point they can masquerade as the OS or trick the OS into doing it for them, creating a situation of Cry Wolf Syndrome with very little in the way of possible remedies since there ARE legitimate reasons for the alerts but there's no real way to tell the genuine ones from the fakes.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not exactly news

        Absolutely, but a bunch of "trick cyclists" have spent goodness knows how much and how long coming up with something that was already well known and presenting it as if it was completely new.

  18. thomas k

    I'm sorry ...

    Did you say something?

    1. Captain DaFt

      Re: I'm sorry ...


  19. ma1010 Silver badge

    Leave me alone!

    This fact can also be used "backwards," taking advantage of this by actively seeking times when people won't be paying close attention. Amazon once had a pop-up that would display just as you were trying to finalize buying something. It exhorted everyone to "try Prime" and spend $100/year on it. There was a YES and a NO checkbox. The default was YES, and it was small and located as far from the "OK" (only) button as possible. I knew people who got taken in by this because they were NOT wanting to be interrupted and just clicked "OK" to get rid of the damn pop-up -- and unknowingly subscribed to Amazon Prime. Then they got their bank accounts debited $100 by surprise, with the usual problems ensuing.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Leave me alone!

      This is still common on almost all large retail websites.

  20. DougS Silver badge

    Skeptical of the supertasker "tests"

    I remember these tests coming out a couple years ago. I took one with numbers and squares and found it easy and got 100%. I took another with doors and passwords and did much worse - I took it a few times and never got the hang of it, even the "practice" sessions where you only had one task at a time weren't nearly so easy as the numbers/squares test.

    So if the first test is valid I'm a supertasker, if the second test is valid I'm not. It is clear that both tests can't be valid.

  21. wsm

    That was a security warning?

    Whatever happens to those pop-ups that disappear as you are typing? Some of us actually use our computers for work and when those little warnings take the focus of our keystrokes momentarily, then disappear, we never know what we did.

    There's got to be a better way than something so easily accidental.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: That was a security warning?

      No, because anything that DOESN'T take the focus can be ignored too easily while anything that DOES take the focus MUST accept key input because of mouseless configurations. It's a case of "Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't".

  22. Dead Parrot

    I blame Vista's UAC


    "Windows needs you permission to continue: Move mouse pointer to the left (Continue)(Cancel)"

    Just hitting 'Yeah, whatever' becomes the norm.

  23. [a-z][A-Z]*

    I just want to get the ****ing job done

    Ok, so just 5 minutes ago I was checking my flight details to make sure I got off at the right stop on the sky train at JFK, and my bloody iPhone started asking me if it was ok to update now or later. I DONT BLODDY WANT TO KNOW AT THIS PRECOSE MOMENT just give me the information I have saved for this exact purpose!


    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: I just want to get the ****ing job done

      This also a large part of the problem. Very bad timing by updates.

  24. ecofeco Silver badge

    So what else is new

    Typical support call:

    Me: "what messages are you getting"

    User: "I dunno, I just click past them cause they don't make any sense."

    Me: "Lets recreate what you are doing so we can see the message"

    *recreates event - user closes the windows as soon as it pops up*

    Me: "Why did you do that? I need to see message."

    User: "It doesn't make any sense to me"

    Me: Bangs head on desk for the umpteenth time that day.

    My other favorite? When in remote session, user won't stop using the computer and I have to lock them out.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So what else is new

      And people wonder why some UIs insist on coddling the user. Because they have to deal with Stupid everyday, that's why.

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