One thing I have observed from time to time is that a user wants to do something, and they see a message that says something contrary to what they expect. They seem to unconsciously misread it or not acknowledge what it says, then only realize their mistake later. For instance, a dialog appears saying:

Delete File

Are you sure you want to delete "Your Most Important File.data"? This cannot be undone.

[No] [Yes]

The user reads it (we have sometimes asked them to make sure they read it). It appears they either misread it or don't grasp what is going on despite looking at the text. The user then clicks "Yes".

The file "Your Most Important File.data" has been deleted.

The user says a swear word and says they didn't realize what was going on.

I know that there are better UI ways to prevent this sort of behavior (such as changing the button text to something that seems less mundane), but I'd like to know if there is a UI/UX term for this type of user behavior where they misread something that is different from what they expect.

  • I wouldn't call it misreading but exploring (of) behaviour. Because the message seems clear to me reading only the title or whole text: Delete? Yes or no. Are you sure? Yes or no. What else did they expect? Is it that they didn't realize the impact of a simple click?
    – jazZRo
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 10:08
  • 1
    The instant that passes between making such a mistake and realizing it is called an OhNoSecond.
    – user67695
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 18:44

3 Answers 3


I'm not aware of a term that describes exactly that, but there is one well-known distinction that might be relevant to your case. We distinguish between two types of human errors - mistakes and slips.

A mistake occurs when a person aims to perform the wrong action, because they think that it's the right one. For example, if they want to shut down their computer, hit Log Off, and expect the computer to turn off.

A slip takes place when a person aims to perform the right action, but something goes wrong (a classic slip is a typo - they intended to hit the letter "T" but missed and pressed the adjacent "Y").

You're describing a slip. I think that they operate on some kind of "auto-pilot", and even if you ask them to read the message, they don't process it. For instance, I believe that if you asked them to stop before closing the dialog and tell you what will happen once they press "yes", they would be forced to understand the message and would not in fact press "yes".


It happens in a situation where the user isn't EXPECTING the question.

What people see is what they were expecting to see.

If they weren't expecting it, it becomes invisible, so I call them S.E.Ps ( Douglas Adams pointed out this behaviour back in the 1970s )


What Adams describes are visual disturbances where the brain 'edits out' information because it doesn't think it should be there. It's because our senses aren't passive but active systems: our eyes actually see everything upside down but then the brain processes the information to turn it the right way around.

The Invisible Gorilla Book goes into this in more detail:


A psychological concept which covers it is Inattentional blindness

  • Is there a UI/UX term for them misreading something because they aren't expecting it? I've clarified my question Commented Jan 15, 2017 at 0:11
  • No there isn't a UX term. It's known psychology because its yet another example of the way brains work: brains don't just deal with incoming data, but actively filter the incoming data based on existing known patterns: ie "What you see is what you think you'll see".
    – PhillipW
    Commented Jan 15, 2017 at 7:51

Hello I have been there before, which is my previous company have a similiar issue with the delete dialog, the best practice I got with this was replacing word "yes" with "Delete" so your button will "cancel" & "Delete" which are more obvious to the user that want to take the action even they don't really read/miss the note. Button with the right label will help them prevent any wrong action.

Please check this link, this is a great article: https://uxplanet.org/primary-secondary-action-buttons-c16df9b36150#.uwjntaevt

  • You could add a note saying: "This action will trigger a painful electric shock. Proceed?" They would learn to pay attention to messages that way.
    – user67695
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 18:47

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