Friday, 29 January 2016

Persuasion and Persuasive Technology

Humans generally try to influence the behaviors of others through physical and non-physical means [1]. Coercion and persuasion are types of influence. While coercion is seen to be unethical, persuasion on the other hand is mainly considered morally justifiable and ethical. Persuasion is defined as influencing the opinions or actions of others without the use of coercion [2]

Persuasive Technology (PT)
Persuasive technology is the use of technology in persuasion.  B.J. Fogg defines PT as an interactive form of technology designed to influence people’s attitudes or behaviors [3]. According to Oinas-Kukkonen et al [4], PT is any form of technology designed to bring about change in one’s attitude or behaviors without the use of coercion or deception. PT can take several forms like e-commerce websites like Amazon that persuades users to buy more products, fitness bands like fitbit that encourages users to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle, and marketing products that drive the sale of goods. 

There are several advantages of persuasive technology over traditional media and human persuaders. Persuasive technology is more interactive than traditional media like radio ads and print. Research has shown that the more interactive a persuasive technique is, the more effective it becomes [3]. In terms of human persuaders and PT, human persuaders are not as persistent as PT. For example, Ebay persistently sends emails to users after a purchase for the user to rate the product bought. Ebay uses these ratings to generate personalized recommendations to users. In addition, using technology to persuade users, information can be presented in various forms including text, graphics, animation, etc. based on the user’s preference [5]. This is not possible with human persuasion. Finally, compared to humans, computer applications are ubiquitous. They can be used where human persuaders are not welcome and cannot exist [3].

Ethical implications of persuasion/persuasive technology
There is a thin line between persuasion and coercion. Repeatedly asking me to carry out an action because it will be beneficial to you could be termed coercion. So where does persuasion end and coercion begin?

Persuasive technology is currently a very active research area. I am presently looking into how PT can enhance sales in e-commerce businesses. I'm looking into how PT can enhance participation in social networks since most e-businesses that thrive have an active social network component. I'm welcome to comments, suggestions and possible collaboration.

[1] P. Powers, "Persuasion and Coercion: A Critical Review of Philosophical and Empirical Approaches," HEC Forum, vol. 19, pp. 125-143, 06/01, 2007.
[2] H. W. Simons and J. Jones, Persuasion in Society. Taylor & Francis, 2011.
[3] B. J. Fogg, "Persuasive technology: using computers to change what we think and do," Ubiquity, vol. 2002, pp. 5, 2002.
[4] H. Oinas-Kukkonen and M. Harjumaa, "Towards deeper understanding of persuasion in software and information systems," in Advances in Computer-Human Interaction, 2008 First International Conference On, 2008, pp. 200-205.
[5] W. C. King, M. Marie Dent and E. W. Miles, "The persuasive effect of graphics in computer-mediated communication," Comput. Hum. Behav., vol. 7, pp. 269-279, 01/01, 1991.

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