To the designer, reflection is perhaps the most important of the levels of processing. Reflection is conscious, and the emotions produced at this level are the most protracted: those that assign agency and cause, such as guilt and blame or praise and pride. Re- flective responses are part of our memory of events. Memories last far longer than the immediate experience or the period of usage, which are the domains of the visceral and behavioral levels. It is reflection that drives us to recommend a product, to recommend that others use it—or perhaps to avoid it.
Reflective memories are often more important than reality. If we have a strongly positive visceral response but disappointing usability problems at the behavioral level, when we reflect back upon the product, the reflective level might very well weigh the positive response strongly enough to overlook the severe behav- ioral difficulties (hence the phrase, “Attractive things work bet- ter”). Similarly, too much frustration, especially toward the ending stage of use, and our reflections about the experience might over- look the positive visceral qualities. Advertisers hope that the strong reflective value associated with a well-known, highly prestigious brand might overwhelm our judgment, despite a frustrating expe- rience in using the product. Vacations are often remembered with fondness, despite the evidence from diaries of repeated discomfort and anguish.
Sometimes the emotion comes first. An unexpected loud noise can cause automatic visceral and behavioral responses that make us flee. Then, the reflective system observes itself fleeing and deduces that it is afraid. The actions of running and fleeing occur first and set off the interpretation of fear.
But sometimes cognition occurs first. Suppose the street where we are walking leads to a dark and narrow section. Our reflective system might conjure numerous imagined threats that await us. At some point, the imagined depiction of potential harm is large enough to trigger the behavioral system, causing us to turn, run, and flee. Here is where the cognition sets off the fear and the action.
Most products do not cause fear, running, or fleeing, but badly designed devices can induce frustration and anger, a feeling of helplessness and despair, and possibly even hate. Well-designed devices can induce pride and enjoyment, a feeling of being in con- trol and pleasure—possibly even love and attachment. Amuse- ment parks are experts at balancing the conflicting responses of the emotional stages, providing rides and fun houses that trigger fear responses from the visceral and behavioral levels, while all the time providing reassurance at the reflective level that the park would never subject anyone to real danger.
All three levels of processing work together to determine a per- son’s cognitive and emotional state. High-level reflective cognition can trigger lower-level emotions. Lower-level emotions can trigger higher-level reflective cognition.