Do Persuasive Technologies Persuade?

Gamification has become increasingly popular (Figure) and it is starting to establish itself as an independent vein of literature. However, gamification bears many similarities with other (somewhat scattered) conceptual developments. Perhaps the most analogous conceptual development is persuasive technology which, similarly to gamification, refers to technology being used to influence people’s psychological states and behavior. The differences are subtle; on the conceptual level, persuasive technology focuses more on social and communicative persuasion and attitude change (Fogg, 2002), whereas gamification centers more around invoking users’ (intrinsic) motivations (through gameful experiences and affordances – Huotari & Hamari, 2012). These similarities imply that research regarding the parallel developments most likely hold interesting findings also from the perspective of gamification.

To this end, we systematically examined an extensive body of literature (95 studies) branding itself as addressing persuasive technologies (in the same vein as Hamari et al., 2014 on gamification). We investigated the system elements, the psychological mediators/outcomes, the behavioral outcomes, and the domains in which the persuasion was implemented in the reviewed studies.

The reviewed studies have examined diverse persuasive systems/designs, psychological factors, and behavioral outcomes. The results of the reviewed studies were categorized into fully positive, partially positive, and negative and/or no effects. Based on the review, and similarly to gamification, it seems that persuasive technologies are employed especially to motivate toward behaviors that people find beneficial but difficult to start or maintain, such as healthy habits, learning, and ecological behavior among others. The affordances for persuasion implemented in the reviewed studies are also various.

Although the initial objective of the study was not primarily to compare the fields of empirical research on gamification and persuasive technology, the results indeed suggest that there is notable overlap. Studies on points, rewards, competition, leaderboards, goals etc. that have been the most frequently studied gamification mechanics (Hamari et al., 2014) also form a major portion of the elements studied in the persuasive technology literature. However, there are also differences; the most studied affordances in persuasive technology pertain to audio and visual stimuli and social persuasion, which are not as prominent in the gamification literature. Furthermore, gamification and persuasive technology research share common ground with respect to the psychological factors.

The domains of implementations in gamification and persuasive technology studies are also similar, however, their emphases differ. Most persuasive technology studies examine the implementations in the health/exercise and ecological behavior domains, while gamification seems to be leaning more towards education and learning.

See the paper for more details.

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Citation: Hamari, J., Koivisto, J., & Pakkanen, T. (2014). Do Persuasive Technologies Persuade? – A Review of Empirical Studies. In: Spagnolli, A. et al. (Eds.), Persuasive Technology, LNCS 8462, pp. 118-136. Springer International Publishing, Switzerland. image

Abstract: This paper reviews the current body of empirical research on persuasive technologies (95 studies). In recent years, technology has been increasingly harnessed to persuade and motivate people to engage in various behaviors. This phenomenon has also attracted substantial scholarly interest over the last decade. This review examines the results, methods, measured behavioral and psychological outcomes, affordances in implemented persuasive systems, and domains of the studies in the current body of research on persuasive technologies. The reviewed studies have investigated diverse persuasive systems/designs, psychological factors, and behavioral outcomes. The results of the reviewed studies were categorized into fully positive, partially positive, and negative and/or no effects. This review provides an overview of the state of empirical research regarding persuasive technologies. The paper functions as a reference in positioning future research within the research stream of persuasive technologies in terms of the domain, the persuasive stimuli and the psychological and behavioral outcomes.

Juho Hamari
Researcher @ Game Research Lab – University of Tampere

Jonna Koivisto
Researcher @ Game Research Lab – University of Tampere

 Tuomas Pakkanen
School of Sciences– Aalto University

3 thoughts on “Do Persuasive Technologies Persuade?

  1. Thank you very much for sharing this work. These kinds of studies are very important, not only to health providers who can have increased confidence in prescribing these kinds of tools, but to industry partners who go the extra mile to design using evidence-based best practices.

  2. Thanks for sharing this great work. I am interested in applying these concepts to create solutions in the behavioral health field. Do you happen to know which organizations are focused on this kind of work – putting the validated research into practice?

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