Persuasive Technology – how social media and mobile apps drive our desires

Almost every technology company that develops custom applications or games today uses persuasive technology. It is thanks to these technologies that you are online for more time than you should and transferring more personal information than you would like.

Since The Social Dilemma was released on Netflix, discussions about the ethics of using these technologies became widespread, so we decided to use our platform to identify promising markets and technologies TeqViser understand what persuasion technologies are, what are their capabilities, how they are used in the IT sphere and what dangers they pose. By the way, it was the results of monitoring TeqViser trends that we used when developing Rostelecom’s development strategy

What are persuasion technologies?

Persuasion Technologies (Persuasive technology) Are technologies that are designed to change the attitudes or behavior of users through persuasion and social influence, but not through coercion.

The discipline that studies persuasion technologies is called Captology (Captology, from the abbreviation CAPT: Computers As Persuasive Technologies) – a new direction of science at the intersection of information technology and psychology.

Both terms were coined by BJ Fogg, a sociologist, philosopher, and behavioral scientist from Stanford University. He is the founder and director of Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, later renamed to Behavior Design Lab

B.J. Fogg was the first to publicly articulate the idea of ​​applying the principles of psychology to the design of computer programs to get people to do things they would not otherwise do.

Study the technologies of persuasion by B.J. Fogg started back in the 90s of the last century, and they got widespread use thanks to social networks and mobile applications, or rather, social networks owe their popularity to persuasion technologies. By the way, one of the co-founders of Instagram, Mike Krieger, was a student of Fogg.

Why is it important now?

By shaping annual ranking global digitalization trends, we drew attention to the rapid growth of the Persuasive Technology trend across all sources. This is especially noticeable in investments, which means that very soon the technology will become truly massive.

Here are some statistics from TeqViser:

In total, since 2014, more than 25 thousand scientific articles have been published and about 500 patents related to persuasion technologies have been received.

The sharp increase in investment, which began in 2019, is associated with an increase in the number of adherents of a healthy and active lifestyle, as well as with an increased attention of society to health (physical and mental), because the main area of ​​application of persuasion technologies today is healthcare. The largest deal in this area is the investment of the venture fund SoftBank in the Brazilian fitness app Gympass ($ 300 million in 2019).

In addition to investments, the demand for qualified specialists is growing. Typically, the greatest talent shortages occur in breakout markets during the early days of technology. In terms of the number of vacancies, the Persuasive Technology trend is comparable to the Biometric trend, however, the difference between supply and demand in the labor market for persuasion technologies is 2270%, and for biometrics 112%. Once again, the demand for specialists who have knowledge in several areas at once and who carry out their activities at the intersection of disciplines, in this case psychology and IT, is confirmed.

How it works?

According to the pattern of behavior that B.J. Fogg formulated in 2007 that there are three elements at the heart of any action that must coincide in time:
motivation – a person must want to perform an action;
ability – he must be able to perform this action;
trigger (hint) – he needs to be nudged.

According to the author, this is a universal model that is applicable to all types of behavior, in all cultures, for people of any age. Here’s how it works on the example of your favorite TV series: you watch the episode (at this moment the motivation to watch the sequel is quite high), the video service immediately offers the next one (here is the trigger, the hint – see further), the subscription model and automatic download of the next episode increase your abilities to watching, well, if you have even a little time, you will start watching the next episode. It seems now clear why every year fewer films are released, and more and more TV series, right?

In addition to understanding the model of human behavior, technologies of persuasion use another psychological trick – the choice of the correct strategy of persuasion or a set of such strategies. This is something that can increase a person’s motivation.

Here are the basic persuasion strategies:



Problem statement and goal setting

Describing problems and setting goals that will show a person that the present is undesirable, and the desired future is achievable, you can achieve the desired behavior from him

Self-control and feedback

Being able to track your own performance increases motivation


Any information will be more convincing if it is adapted to individual needs and interests, to the context of use or other factors related to the person

Social comparison

Being able to compare your performance with the performance of others adds motivation to people


Small, or even virtual, reward for targeted behavior encourages action more often and more efficiently

The above strategies work even without the use of information technology and have been applied at all times in politics, business, even in person. Someone mastered them perfectly, someone knew nothing about them and regularly made sure against their will. But look at the limitless possibilities that modern technology adds to this knowledge.

Let’s go back to B.J. Fogg and compare it with the capabilities of digital technologies:

  1. Motivation: Gamification can turn any process into an entertaining quest, promising various rewards and increasing motivation.

  2. Ability: technology is constantly simplifying our task by increasing our ability to “buy in one click”.

  3. Trigger: using algorithms for analyzing user behavior, you can determine the best time for a trigger (direction of notification) and make it personalized.

As technology evolves, the distance between the “seller” and the “buyer” is narrowing: the transition from using computers to mobile and then wearable devices made it so that gradually, all users became available for interaction 24/7. Obviously, the next step will be the large-scale introduction of invasive devices and neurocomputer interfaces.

It turns out that the more technology “penetrates” a person, the more opportunities appear for the use of various persuasion strategies.

Applications and cases

PreventScripts – a platform for remote health monitoring, using persuasion technologies in drawing up and monitoring the implementation of individual plans for the prevention of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Project Perflectie (Netherlands) is an online corporate learning platform based on behavioral change principles and persuasion strategies.

Nike – uses persuasion technologies in its Nike Run Club and Nike Training Club apps to support users in sports (the functionality of the apps includes the ability to set goals, track and share results, as well as various recommendations)

MoneyVerbs (USA) is a behavioral change platform that helps users form the right money habits and improve their financial well-being.

Van5Naar4 (Netherlands) is a mobile game that allows employers to motivate their employees to move away from using a private car in favor of more sustainable modes of transport. Within the game, users can team up, compete and see how much energy they have saved, how many calories they burned, etc.

It turns out that belief technologies are in demand in all, without exception, areas where the user is a person, and any successful user application, whether consciously or not, uses these technologies.

Today, mobile apps guide our thoughts, our actions and our lives in general on a daily basis. As James Williams, a former Google employee and now a technology ethicist at Oxford University, noted, persuasion technology developers now, in essence, have the ability to not only influence users, but also create users and society as a whole.

What are the risks?

It is clear that persuasion technologies must be applied ethically and responsibly to avoid abuse. The most striking known example of the unethical use of persuasion technology is the Cambridge Analytica case study. The company used the data it received from Facebook to create user profiles and redirect the widest possible audience to an ad platform that encourages visitors to vote in a specific way.

Technological ethicists back in 1999 proposed one rule: “Persuasion technology creators should never try to convince someone that they themselves would not want to be convinced.” It sounds like the golden rule of morality: “treat others the way you want to be treated,” but how can you verify compliance? Obviously, governments should pay much more attention to this issue, including the need to regulate the use of such technologies.

The widespread use of persuasion technologies proves the effectiveness of interdisciplinary research in IT and psychology. With the development of the digital component of persuasion technologies and their “approach” to users (wearable and invasive devices), the degree of their influence will increase. We are sure that a breakthrough and new discoveries in psychology await us, because conducting psychological experiments in a digital environment is much easier and more efficient. So if you work in the B2C segment, but still haven’t heard anything about persuasion technologies, we highly recommend diving into the topic.

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