Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Persuasion and Persuasive Technology

Traditionally, persuasion is defined as "Human communication designed to influence the autonomous judgements and actions of others" [1]. The online Oxford dictionary defines persuasion as "Causing (someone) to do something through reasoning or argument" [2]. What these definitions have in common is changing the behavior or attitude of others. 

Persuasive technology, simply put, is the use of technology in persuasion. B.J. Fogg (I always refer to him as the father of persuasion) defines persuasive technology as "the use of interactive computing systems to change people's attitudes and behaviors" [3]. Oinas-Kukkonen defines persuasive technology as "computerized software or information systems designed to reinforce, change or shape attitudes or behaviors or both without using coercion or deception"[4]. Persuasive technology, to me, is the use of technology to change the attitude and behavior of others without coercion or deception.

Persuasive technology (PT) is used in every domain I can think of. In e-commerce, companies like Amazon persuade customers by making suggestions about other products, using text like "Customers who bought this item also bought". Facebook persuades you to "friend" other users by telling you how many friends you have in common with them. Q&A social networks like Stack Overflow [5] persuade people to participate by rewarding top participants with high reputation scores and privileges. If you take a minute to think about it, almost everything these days involve some form of persuasive technology. In health, there are several apps that persuade people to live healthy life styles. The list goes on. 

There are currently various frameworks and strategies for designing persuasive systems. A review carried out by Waife and Nakata [6] shows that the frequently applied frameworks include B.J. Fogg's functional triad [3], and the trans-theoretical model - TTM [7]. TTM is a health specific framework. B.J.Fogg's functional triad had been studied extensively over the years and and new frameworks have been developed based on his model. One of such models is the Persuasive System's Design model of Oinas-Kukkonen and Harjumaa [4]. Cialdini's 6 principles of persuasion [8] is another model that I have studied recently. These frameworks include constructs like scarcity, praise, rewards, that if implemented in a system, could lead to increased persuasiveness of that system and ultimately a positive change of the system's users behavior and attitude.

It should be noted that persuasive technology excludes the use of coercion and deception. There is train of thought that considers persuasion to be the same as deception or coercion. I agree that there is a thin line between persuasion and coercion, but a line does exist, hence they are not the same thing.

Over the next weeks, I will review one or two frameworks described above and I will give examples of their application in a typical e-commerce platform.

[Please note that this article was not peer-reviewed and forms my personal opinion. The comments however are not mine and do not describe my opinion.]


[1] Simons, H.W. Morreale, J. Gronbeck, B.: Persuasion in society. Sage publications, Inc., Thousand Oaks (2001)
[3] B.J. Fogg, "Persuasive technology: using computers to change what we think and do". Morgan Kauffman, 2003.
[4] H. Oinas-Kukkonen and M. Harjumaa, "A systematic framework for designing and evaluating persuasive systems," in Persuasive Technology, Springer, 2008, pp. 164-176.
[6] I. Wiafe and K. Nakata, "Bibliographic analysis of persuasive systems: techniques, methods and domains of application," Persuasive Technology, vol. 61, 2012.
[7] J. O. Prochaska and W. F. Velicer, "The transtheoretical model of health behavior change," American Journal of Health Promotion, vol. 12, pp. 38-48, 1997.
[8] Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Influence: Science and practice (Vol. 4). Boston: Pearson Education.

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