When an incorrect password is entered into an Apple Mac’s login prompt, the dialog gently shakes as if the operating system is shaking its head at you.

This is a delightfully intuitive way to indicate your mistake.

Well, it is in my culture (UK), and I assume this is also the case in the many parts of the world in which a head shake is used to indicate rejection. According to Wikipedia, these include the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia, Europe (Greece included), South America, North America and Australia.

But in some regions, a head shake has the opposite meaning — as affirmation. According to Wikipedia, this is true in Bulgaria and southern Albania. Then there are cultures, such as in many parts of India, where a “head bobble” gesture — vaguely similar to a head shake — is used to mean agreement, confirmation, comprehension or as encouragement.

My question is: does the Apple Mac’s login form behave differently in different regions, and if so, how? If not, does the gesture cause confusion?

  • 1
    I'm voting to close this because I think that unless you ask the user research dept at Apple, the answers will be primarily opinion based, and ultimately too broad for this format. That said, in case others don't agree with me, I've provided a response below.
    – dennislees
    Jan 16, 2018 at 6:28

1 Answer 1


You're interpreting the animation as negative head shake because that fits with your cultural background, but ultimately it's just a way of drawing attention to the input.

Just because you notice the association between the negative of the error and the negative of the 'shake' animation, doesn't necessarily mean that a person who doesn't make that association will notice and be affected by the absence of the association.

By your rationale, a person from a culture where a head shake is positive, upon seeing what is for them an abstraction of a positive gesture accompany a negative event (password error), will experience a type of cognitive dissonance sufficiently strong to confuse and distract them from the task of retrying the password. I think that what is more likely is that they will simply have their attention drawn to the field.

The interaction (screen not changing) and animation (animated input) say "That didn't work. Here is why"

I would suggest that what is universal in the animation is the concept that something is not usual about the input. Inputs don't generally move. Therefore when they do, especially if we've just interacted with them, our attention is immediately drawn.

All users will notice the animation and focus on it. Additionally, some users may associate the specifics of the animation with a type of head gesture.

  • Thanks for your response — great analysis. I hadn't considered the extent to which my culture was likely to be clouding my interpretation of the gesture.
    – Wheelie
    Jan 17, 2018 at 8:47

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.