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I am wondering whether there are any usability studies out there regarding natural vs. reverse (traditional) scrolling. I tried to google the matter a bit and it seems natural scrolling took off with some Mac OS version - but remains controversial even in the Mac community.

I generally find using a trackpad clumsy - mainly with regards to scrolling. I have, however, only really used reverse scrolling. My issues are only compounded by natural scrolling, but I am wondering whether it might end up being a better experience if I invested the time needed to get used to it.

I guess Apple must have had some intelligent reason for imposing a standard that needs so much getting used to on the part of their users. IS there any evidence that natural scrolling is a switch worth making?

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  • It might make sense to make this be a question more specifically related to use of trackpads. Natural scrolling makes sense if you're interacting directly with a touch screen, where you're "physically" interacting with the document beneath the screen to bring new info into view. The translation of this into the trackpad is what have a lot of people scratching their heads.
    – nightning
    Aug 8, 2016 at 18:37
  • When Steve Jobs was interviewed on his stance about forcing users to go from cellphones with lots of buttons to just a touchscreen he replied "They'll learn." I haven't the foggiest idea what research there is out there on this specific decision, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was equally arrogant and part of a larger plan to unify all their gestures so they could more easily kill the mouse entirely one day. Aug 15, 2016 at 20:39
  • I mean... It's a learned behavior... I switched a while ago and when I hop on a computer that doesn't have it, I go back to doing what that computer requires for me to scroll regularly on that computer...
    – UXerUIer
    Aug 18, 2016 at 16:04

2 Answers 2

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Interesting question. This is what I could find after a bit of searching on the matter:

This article by Chen J, Proctor RW. (2013) seems to address this question. Sadly the full article isn't publicly available, but here is their conclusion (although it is hard to know what it is actually based on):

Conclusion: Scrolling in the direction of content movement yielded the best performance, and the scrolling effect was the main source of the R-E compatibility effect.

R-E compatibility is Response-Effect compatibility, and more discussion on this topic can be found publicly in this article by Janczyk, M., Yamaguchi, M., Proctor, R.W. et al. (2015).

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Apple's decision makes sense if you look at the Apple Mouse. It doesn't have a mouse wheel - the upper surface is a touchpad. So its behaviour mimics a touchscreen, ie. you're pushing the content around with your finger (including sideways). An upward swipe of your finger moves your view down the document.

And if you have a mouse with a wheel, well it would make sense for the direction to be consistent so swapping to a different mouse doesn't require you to relearn how to use it.

So from that point of view, Windows is making an arbitrary choice and Apple is making the most rational one to cover all its devices.

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