How to Change the Scrolling Direction in Lion [OS X Tips]

How to Change the Scrolling Direction in Lion [OS X Tips]
How to Change the Scrolling Direction in Lion [OS X Tips]

One of the most noticeable changes in OS X Lion is Apple’s reversal of traditional page scrolling. In Lion, Apple has adopted an iOS approach to scrolling by changing the way that the user scrolls up and down; instead of moving the window around the content, you actually move the content itself.

This method of scrolling works great when you’re on a touchscreen device like an iPhone or iPad, but a more traditional desktop experience doesn’t lend itself to what Apple calls “Natural Scrolling” in Lion.

If you’d like to go back to the old way of scrolling in Lion, here’s how to do so.

It’s actually quite easy to turn off reversed, or “natural,” scrolling in Lion. All you need to do is change a simple setting in your Mac’s System Preferences.

If you’re on a MacBook or desktop machine with a Magic Trackpad or Magic Mouse, it’s as simple as going to the “Trackpad” menu of System Preferences and clicking on “Scroll & Zoom.” From that window, uncheck “Scroll direction: natural.” Reversed scrolling will be disabled.

If you’re not using a trackpad or Magic Mouse, you can disable reversed scrolling in your “Mouse” options. Uncheck “Move content in the direction of finger movement when scrolling or navigating” and you’re good to go!

The public’s reception of Apple’s scrolling reversal in Lion has been incredibly varied. Some like the change and see it as Apple moving forward with the ‘iOSification’ of OS X, while some see it as an annoying flaw that’s difficult to get comfortable with.

On a trackpad, reversed scrolling makes a little more sense. The trackpad is the closest thing to a Mac touchscreen, and scrolling through content feels more akin to scrolling on the iPad or iPhone. However, on a physical mouse — even the Magic Mouse — reversed scrolling in Lion can initially feel very wrong. It definetely takes some getting used to.

What’s your opinion of the reversed scrolling in Lion? Did Apple make the right move, or is “Natural Scrolling” on the desktop too premature?

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  • Phillip Glaeser

    Really enjoy the scrolling when using the trackpad.  Really sucks when using a mouse.  Wish there was a simple way to break the two.  

  • GH

    If you don’t know how to change the preferences yourself for something this simple, you should not own a Mac. not even a PC, you should just jump off a cliff.  Seriously.

  • muledoggie

    Good tip.

    I need a tip on search in Lion. I can’t seem to find how to turn “search contents” on and off like in Snow Leopard. I.E. I just want to search names many times …

    Jeff

  • fortninety

    Couldn’t agree more. Don’t know why they don’t acknowledge the two are completely different.

    Oh wait, I forgot: Apple wants you to buy their utterly unusable Magic Mouse.

  • Dan Farcas

    I cannot understand why this was changed in the first place. I felt like Apple was trolling me. Lion was a huge disappointment for me. A bunch of random features that I didn’t need were thrown at Snow Leopard = Lion. Downgraded to SL again on my MacBook. My next computer will be a thinkpad with linux, even gnome3 or kde4 are better than this user interface. And gnome3 and kde4 are really bad, at least kde4 allows me the freedom to change the stuff I hate.

  • Michael

    There are way too many people who love the Magic Mouse for you to call it utterly unusable. Maybe for you its unusable, but not for so many other people.

  • scapelle

    I actually like the reverse scrolling a lot, but I’m thinking of turning it off for the mere reason that my Macs at work still have Snow Leopard (and won’t go Lion anytime soon). It’s incredibly frustrating when I try scrolling at work, only to realize I’m reverse scrolling. 

  • Allen Frank

    Muledoggie – how do you turn the “search contents” function off in Snow Leopard? That drives me crazy!

  • Robert Pruitt

    I am used to the new scrolling on my Mac but I admit it throws me off for the first minute or two as I have to use my Windows work machine.

  • Mike Horvath

    I like it. Wish I could change my business-Dell-PC to natural scrolling as well.

  • vopat

    A good example of Lion being the dumbing down OS. Maybe we can get an article telling us how to open finder. How about a tutorial about how to turn off your machine?

  • fortninety

    Sorry, but that’s basically saying “how can you say musician X sucks when it’s so popular?” And we all know that popularity is not an accurate means of determining something’s worth value.

  • Michael

    It’s not about popularity. It’s about what certain people like to use, and for some, that’s the Magic Mouse. Personally, I like my average Logitech mouse with hyper-scrolling. Now, some could say that my mouse is utterly unusable because it does or does not have feature “x,” but that’s just their opinion/experience with it. It does not make it a bad mouse, nor does it make it utterly unusable as a whole.

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  • Robert Moore

    I agree with you !

  • Cleosbaby

    Oh thank you, thank you, thank you! 

  • Gierke Hobbema

    The problem is, horizontal scrolling DOES feel more natural with the new setting, especially when switching between spaces. Can you adjust horizontal and vertical scrolling individually?

  • Gofry

    Hate it! Happy it’s so easy to fix!

  • Asl3383

    I hate the natural scrolling in Mac OS X Lion. It is way awkward and there is nothing natural about it. It is fine for an iPhone or for the iPad, but not for a Mac desktop or laptop. 

    This method of scrolling works great when you’re on a touchscreen device like an iPhone or iPad, but a more traditional desktop experience doesn’t lend itself to what Apple calls “Natural Scrolling” in Lion.

  • Anahita72

    thanks for this tip, it was so annoying the reverse scrolling, especially when am using a regular mouse on my iMac, no iPhone, not the iPad, just a desktop computer mouse. Thanks :)

  • Golfingpair

    Shame on you, compassion not sarcasm works better.

  • Rdesear

    Its completely retarded

  • poopsy

    I hate the Lion scrolling, there is nothing natural about it!

  • facebook-1483089818

    yea it’s way too early for this sort of natural scrolling, if at all. it makes sense on small screens and devices but not on a large monitor.

  • Lavon Maiersperger

    Either scrolling direction works for me and natural scrolling makes sense like pushing a piece of paper on a desk up as you read it. I like the other direction on my IMAC so there is a moment of adjustment switching between the 2 but it isn’t a big deal being a switch hitter.

  • Greg Gibson

    Natural = FAIL

  • MJSprof

    A helpful point, I hope:  one must change this setting using an  Apple Mouse first.  Then it’s possible to switch to another mouse with a scroll wheel.

    I was using a Microsoft Ergonomic Mouse (“Natural Wireless Laser 6000″) that feels very nice in my hand, but the “change the direction setting” box does not appear when just using that mouse.
    I disconnect the MS mouse; connected the Apple Magic Mouse; then openend the Mouse setting and unchecked the box as instructed.  
    Then when I reconnected the MS mouse the scrolling worked as I have always expected on a desktop:  down the page as I scrolled toward myself, up to the top as I scrolled toward the screen.
    I don’t know whether this a fault of the MS driver software or of Lion; but I’m glad to have scrolling work the way my muscle memory expects!

About the author

Alex HeathAlex Heath has been a staff writer at Cult of Mac for three years. He is also a co-host of the CultCast. He has been quoted by places like the BBC, KRON 4 News, and books like "ICONIC: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation." If you want to pitch a story, share a tip, or just get in touch, additional contact information is available on his personal site. Twitter always works too. All DMs excepted.

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