Behaviourism, ie behavioural design

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Behaviourism is a school of psychology that works on that basis of human behaviour is best understood as a function of incentives and rewards. This concept is being applied to understanding the digital interface, where we spend a lot of our time, and how it shapes human decisions, ie how computers might be used to influence the behaviour of the users.  This intersection of computer science and psychology has been called captology (computers as persuasive technologies) and more recently its name has changed to behaviour design.

Interactive technologies are no longer just tools for work; they have become part of people's daily life, eg used in finance, study, health management, etc. Until recently technologists were focused on the machines that they were making rather than on the human beings using these machines. Humans interaction with machines may be relevant to "rule of reciprocity" that psychologists have identified in social life.  It is thought that computer applications could be methodically designed to exploit the rules of psychology in order to get people to do things they might not otherwise do. This raises questions around whether such persuasion is beneficial and ethical.

"...the e-mails that induce you to buy right away, the apps and games that rivet your attention, the online forms that push you towards one decision over another: all are designed to hack the human brain and capitalise on its instincts, quirks and flaws..."
Ian Leslie 2016

"...the Internet's potential to inform and enlighten was at loggerheads with the commercial imperative to seize and hold the attention of users by any means possible..."
Tristan Harris as quoted by Ian Leslie 2016

This is hijacking of our psychological vulnerabilities, such as our need for social approval.

"...Unconscious impulses are transformed into social obligations that compel attention and are sold for cash..."
Tristan Harris as quoted by Ian Leslie 2016

" digital technology is diminishing the human capability of making free choice..."
Tristan Harris as quoted by Ian Leslie 2016

This is more than just clicking on screens as you can see into the entire global economy. It becomes power, ie
"...whoever controls the menu controls the choices. the news we see, the friends we hear from, the jobs we hear about, the restaurants we consider, even potential romantic partners - all of them are, increasingly, filtered through a few widespread apps, each of which comes with a menu of options. This gives the menu designer enormous power..."
Ian Leslie 2016

eg options can be tilted to influence choices
"...The more influence the tech products exert over our behaviour, the less control we have over ourselves......companies are getting better at getting people to make the choices they want them to make..."
Ian Leslie 2016

The techniques are blatantly manipulative, becoming steadily more refined and less noticeable. For these techniques to work, 3 things need to happen, ie the person must
i)  want to do it
ii) be able to do it
iii) be prompted by a trigger (prompt for action. This is most effective when a person is highly motivated or the task is easy. On the other hand, if the task is hard, people will become frustrated; if not motivated, they'll get annoyed.  Frustration is more easily fixed than annoyance. Usually we try to increase motivation to persuade people, but sometimes an effective way is to make the behaviour easier.

NB It is very hard to get people to do something they don't want to do
"...when motivation is high enough, or a task easy enough, people become responsive to triggers such as the vibration of a phone, Facebook's red dot, the e-mail from the fashion store featuring a time-limited offer on jumpsuits. the trigger, if well-designed (or "hot"), will find you at exactly the moment you are most eager to take the action..."
Ian Leslie 2016

The most important words in behavioural design are
"...put what triggers in the path of motivated people..."
BJ Fogg as quoted by Ian Leslie 2016

Triggers can be internal and/or external, ie
" app succeeds when it meets the users most basic emotional needs even before they come consciously aware of them..."
Nir Eyal as quoted by Ian Leslie 2016

This has been called unthinking choices.
Brands should be designed to develop habits, ie
"...the more immediate and intense a rush of emotion a person feels the first time they use something, the more likely they are to make it an automatic choice..."
Leslie 2016

This is why Apple takes enormous care to ensure that customers' first encounter with a new phone feels magical. This upfront delivery of dopamine bonds the customer to the product. The real transaction is emotional, ie make people feel successful.

Social media has raised behavioural design to levels of increased sophistication, ie to keep consumers motivated by using concepts like variable rewards, ie every time you do the same activity, the rewards vary. In other words, you become psychologically hooked. For example with Snapschat,
" never know if someone will have liked your photo, left a comment, written a funny status update, or dropped you a message. so you keep tapping the red dot, swiping left and scrolling down..."
Ian Leslie 2016

Social media apps latch on to one of our deepest wells of motivation, ie
"...The human brain releases pleasurable, habit-forming chemicals in response to social interactions......and the hottest triggers are other people: you and your friends will follow is constantly prompting each other to use the service for longer..."
Ian Leslie 2016

On the other hand, this can be overdone and become an unhappy experience (see inverted U)

The gambling industry provides some good examples around behavioural design
- slot machines are designed to exploit compelling power of variable rewards, ie the gambler continually pulls the lever without knowing what he she will get or whether they win anything at all. Slot machines are dominating the gambling industry. They have changed from metal contraptions to contain complex computers produced in a collaboration of software engineers, mathematicians, scriptwriters and graphic artists. The gambling industry aims to maximise "time-on-device", ie keep people playing by
i) being able to order drinks and food from the screen
ii) carefully calibrating lighting, decor, noise levels, machines smell, etc, eg research has found that light drains gamblers' energy fastest when it hits their foreheads

NB The machines are programmed to create near-misses, eg winning symbols appeared regularly just above or below the pay line. The players' losses are  therefore reframed as potential wins, encouraging people to try again. The payout schedule is designed to ensure that people keep playing and losing money. 

Alternative schedules are developed to accommodate the different types of attitudes to risk, eg some gamblers are drawn towards the possibility of big wins and big losses; others prefer a good feed of little payments, ie bleed slowly.

Gamblers talk about the "machine zone", ie
"...a mental state in which their attention is locked into the screen in front of them and the rest the world fades away. You're in a trance..."
Ian Leslie 2016

Real time data from game playing is used to determine how much the player can lose and still feel satisfied, ie how close they are to the "pain point". Once they are near this point, usually they are offered a reward like complimentary food or drink or ticket to a show or gambling coupons, etc. Usually these rewards refresh motivation to carry on gambling.

Other industries like education are investigating these motivation systems.  It is about locking people into these flows of incentive and reward.
Every consumer interface is becoming like a slot machine!!!!

In the digital economy, no matter how useful the product/service, the system itself is still in the favour of this design, ie the house always wins.  The aim is to maximise time-on-device.
Ian Leslie 2016

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