Persuasive Technologies: Influencing Attitudes and Behaviors


How does persuasive technology work? A leading researcher in the field, Standord University professor B. J. Fogg, PhD, has said, “The Web is not about information; it’s about influence.” He argues that information technology can persuade through three different roles.

  • As a tool: IT can persuade by enabling a target behavior, guiding a person through a target behavior, or carrying out measurements or computations that motivate the behavior. This means that simplicity is a key element of persuasion. An example of the application of simplicity is Amazon’s one-click ordering process.
  • As media: IT can persuade by offering experiences or by allowing users to explore information or to practice desired behavior.
  • As a social actor: IT can persuade by support, positive feedback, and modeling of desired behavior. Facebook has been described as an enabler of “mass interpersonal persuasion.” In other words, “Friends influence friends, who influence friends, and that keeps rippling out.”

Fogg has developed a behavioral model that suggests that persuasion requires the simultaneous presence of three elements: motivation, ability, and a trigger.

  • Motivators: According to the model, there are three core motivators: pleasure/ pain; hope/ fear; and social acceptance/ rejection.
  • Ability: Ability is the degree to which a behavior is simple because it requires a minimum of time, money, physical effort, thought, deviation from social norms, or deviation from routine. Note that motivation and ability may be traded against one another: higher motivation can compensate for lower ability, and vice versa. For example, an individual may engage in an activity that requires substantial effort — such as completing an uncomfortable medical test) if performing the activity enables them to avoid a painful or scary outcome (a disease which has claimed the life of a friend of family member).
  • Triggers: The model identifies three types of triggers: facilitators (triggers that increase ability by making behaviors.

4 Key Findings:

  • Persuasive technology uses infotech to influence attitudes and behaviors.
  • Already widely applied, it will grow more ubiquitous, contextualized, and adaptive.
  • Guiding principles for the design of persuasive technology have been elucidated.
  • Persuasive technology raises many important ethical issues.

7 Postulates: Oinas-Kukkonen and Harjumaa offer seven postulates about the nature of persuasive technology.

  • Information technology is never neutral. Persuasion is a complex task with multiple phases.
  • People like their views about the world to be organized and consistent. Systems should offer the opportunity to make commitments. Cognitive inconsistency can motivate change.
  • Direct and indirect routes are key persuasion strategies.
  • Persuasion is often incremental and approaching change stepwise may be more effective than seeking to achieve a complete change in a single encounter.
  • Persuasion through persuasive systems should always be open.
  • Persuasive systems should aim at unobtrusiveness.” Seek the opportune moment to persuade.
  • Persuasive systems should aim at being both useful and easy to use.

3 Business Implications

  1. A wide variety of technology-mediated customer and consumer interactions could be guided and improved by applying the principles of persuasive technology.
  2. Persuasive design—the principles of “design with intent”—can be applied to a wide variety of products and services.
  3. Organizations with a deep understanding of (and information base about) their consumers, various consumer segments, and individual consumer characteristics can apply and leverage that information by using the principles of persuasive technology to market to consumer groups and individuals more effectively.