security messages, information security behavior, NeuroIS, habituation, dual-task interference, eye tracking


Users are vital to the information security of organizations. In spite of technical safeguards, users make many critical security decisions. An example is users' responses to security messages—discrete communication designed to persuade users to either impair or improve their security status. Research shows that although users are highly susceptible to malicious messages (e.g., phishing attacks), they are highly resistant to protective messages such as security warnings. Research is therefore needed to better understand how users perceive and respond to security messages. In this article, we argue for the potential of NeuroIS—cognitive neuroscience applied to information system (IS)—to shed new light on users' reception of security messages in the areas of (1) habituation, (2) stress, (3) fear, and (4) dual-task interference. We present an illustrative study that shows the value of using NeuroIS to investigate one of our research questions. This example uses eye tracking to gain unique insight into how habituation occurs when people repeatedly view security messages, allowing us to design more effective security messages. Our results indicate that the eye movement-based memory (EMM) effect is a cause of habituation to security messages—a phenomenon in which people unconsciously scrutinize stimuli that they have previously seen less than other stimuli. We show that after only a few exposures to a warning, this neurological aspect of habituations sets in rapidly, and continues with further repetitions. We also created a polymorphic warning that continually updates its appearance and found that it is effective in substantially reducing the rate of habituation as measured by the EMM effect. Our research agenda and empirical example demonstrate the promise of using NeuroIS to gain novel insight into users' responses to security messages that will encourage more secure user behaviors and facilitate more effective security message designs.

Original Publication Citation

Anderson, B. B., Vance, A., Kirwan, C. B., Eargle, D., & Jenkins, J. L. (2016). How users perceive and respond to security messages: a NeuroIS research agenda and empirical study. European Journal of Information Systems, 25(4), 364-390.doi:10.1057/ejis.2015.21

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL


Palgrave Macmillan




Marriott School of Management


Information Systems