Badge notifications: why everyone wants to get rid of them

The psychology of badge notifications and why they can be overwhelming.

When I Googled “badge notifications” a few days ago, the majority of the results were about how to remove them from your phone. People are becoming more self-aware of how they use their phones, and removing badge notifications is apparently a step in the right direction. But why do these notifications exist, and how does it work?

Although we know very little about the psychology behind this, we can draw some conclusions from the studies that have been conducted.

Do you recognize the red dots in the corner of your phone’s app? Yes, that is an app icon badge. By showing this badge, the user knows an action is required. The text in the red dot represents the number of notifications for that specific app. So it informs you that a new notification has arrived for this app and how many there are.

A mail app with a red dot containing the number two in the right corner.
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

There are studies that conclude there’s a large increase in the number of clicks on apps with notification badges compared to those without. So using this notification does work if you want the user to click on your app.

By visually displaying notifications that a user hasn’t engaged with, badge notifications can trigger two major cognitive biases: salience and sense of urgency (2022 Bartoli, Benedetto).

The salience bias describes the human tendency to focus on items or information that are more noteworthy while ignoring those that do not grab our attention.

With badge notifications, you might see why this is the case. An app with a badge notification icon is instantly more relevant to a user than the apps around it.

The urgency bias describes the tendency for people to perform unimportant tasks over important tasks when the unimportant tasks are characterized merely by spurious urgency (and illusion of expiration).

If we look at our badge icons again, you’ll see where this is coming from. Because one app has a badge icon, it feels more important than another that does not. As a result, we tend to open the one with the icon simply because it appears to be more important.

Every day, the average smartphone user taps, swipes, or clicks 2,617 times. Curiosity is a major factor, but it’s also due to the fact that we don’t want to leave tasks unfinished. A badge informs the user that there is still unfinished business in this app, prompting them to remove the badge by fixing it.

We started with the fact that people Google how to remove these badge notifications. This implies that something is wrong. People are becoming more and more overwhelmed by the amount of information they must process each and every day. Everything is constantly asking for your attention. So what you don’t want is to open your phone and be bombarded with apps that want you to take action in some way.

They’re screaming at you

The notification badges are red which is mostly associated with danger, but it also draws a lot of attention. This last point makes a lot of sense when you consider the goal of badge notifications. Because red attracts so much attention, opening your phone may cause you to feel more overwhelmed.

Iphone with screen full of apps some having badge icons.
Photo by Brian Tromp on Unsplash

Changing the colors of the badges could be a better option. There are options for designing badges so that users notice them but are not attacked by all of these red dots. A blue badge on a blue app icon, as shown below, can also work for example.

Blue appstore icon with a badge notification in another shade of blue.
David Kovalev on Dribble

When you search for the benefits of badge notifications, you will find a lot of information about why it works to attract people to your app. As we discussed, this does not take into account how the user feels, which is not always positive.

Even though this isn’t ideal, it could be worse. Badge notifications are frequently linked to push notifications, which are even more overwhelming because they require your immediate attention, potentially interrupting you while you are doing something else. Because you don’t need to do anything right away, you can ignore badge notifications a bit more.

But, if you’re anything like me, you can’t stand the thought of all these red dots on your phone begging for your attention. So, I simply turn them all off when I have the option.

If you want to remove the badge notifications after reading this article, simply do a quick search on Google.

What do you think, badges on or off?

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