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Persuasive Technology: new insights in behavioural change


In the first week of April, Salzburg was the place to be in the world of Persuasive Technology. The yearly persuasive technology research conference took place at the co-organising University of Salzburg. This year’s theme was ‘Contextual Persuasion: supporting life situations and challenges by persuasive design’. Minddistrict was there to report on the latest developments and insights in this research area.

What is persuasive technology?

We can’t explain persuasive technology better than the organisers of the conference themselves. Persuasive Technology is an interdisciplinary research field. It focuses on the design, development and evaluation of interactive technologies aimed at changing users’ attitudes or behaviours through persuasion and social influence. Notice: that is not the same as coercion or deception. Persuasive technologies are used to change people’s behaviour. This can be done in various domains, like education or marketing. But persuasive technologies can also be, and are, practiced in healthcare.

Persuasive technology

The human touch in technology

One of the speakers stressing the connection between technology and healthcare was keynote speaker Dr. Mark Alioa, Global Lead Behaviour Change at Philips and associate professor at National Jewish Health.

Psychologist in origin, Aliola argued that clinical psychologists have years of experience in behavioural change, but lack the practical and tactical knowledge around how to build effective and engaging online solutions. He made the sharp observation that on the other hand, the human aspect in current technologies is too often overlooked. Behaviour doesn’t change when you tell someone repeatedly to change his or her behaviour. You can even achieve the opposite effect. Aliola stated that technology needs to learn how to listen to a person. In that way, technology can spark intrinsic motivation and remove the barriers that stop people from changing. When brought together, the behavioural change strategies and experience of psychologists and persuasive technologies can truly create change.

A cautious conclusion

Many of the workshops and sessions discussed the usage of persuasive techniques in technology. How do you create technology that tempts users to use it? Often, the persuasive techniques resemble behavioural change techniques a lot. A cautious conclusion from the conference is therefore that the two worlds, behaviour change and persuasive technology, are different, but more closely related than one might think. And they are getting to know each other even better.

Persuasive technology in ehealth

Ehealth and online therapy are focused on behavioural change. Persuasive technology and techniques can help to improve ehealth. The University of Twente is partner of Minddistrict and part of the Global Research Network. The faculty Persuasive Technology is led by professor dr. Lisette van Gemert. Together, UTwente and Minddistrict are rolling out research on persuasive techniques and technology, behavioural change and ehealth. Which persuasive techniques would benefit users of the Minddistrict platform? Which algorithms can be created to enhance personalisation: to offer the right piece of information or tasks at exactly the right time? And what are the possibilities of Ecological Momentary Assessment in, for example, Minddistrict’s diary app?

persuasive technology

People and technology

Behavioural change is not only about remembering people to do something or not do something at a specific point in time using for example notifications. It is also about motivation, listening, feeling understood, making hundreds of small decisions a day and all those things driving and challenging people. Using the words of Mark Aloia: Gadgets don’t change behaviour, people do.

Want to know more?

Find out more about how online solutions are used for behavioural change.

Discover the possibilties of using Minddistrict for ehealth research.