An Introduction to
Current Issues in Web Technology
This week we start on our third and last topic.
Captology, which is a term that you may never have heard before.
It brings together some of the threads of previous topics, but is an
area of academic study all of its own.
It can be thought of more simply as ‘persuasive technology’.
Term derives from an Acronym:
Technology which is used to change the attitudes and behaviours of
Computers As Persuasive Technology
It’s a fast growing field, with considerable professional and
academic attention being paid.
First of all, let’s talk about a different topic.
We’re full of cognitive biases, as has come up several times during
Nudging can be a controversial technique.
Let’s let one of the originator’s of the term describe it:
The concept of the ‘nudge’
Claims of social engineering or big brother thought control.
The fact is you are almost always going to ‘nudge’ when you offer
someone a choice.
One of the canonical example of a nudge is that of the ‘opt-in’.
As we discussed last week, cognitive effort must be expended
to work through thoughts and tasks.
When asking people if they want to do something, do you make it
opt-in or opt-out?
The choice you make will greatly influence compliance rates.
And deciding to opt-in to something is a cognitive demanding task
that is aversive.
Making it out-out inverts the cost.
It’s more costly to opt out than it is to opt in.
Tickles the ‘status quo’ effect.
In Captology, we talk about ‘compliance rates’.
The number of people who end up complying with what we have
decided are ‘approved’ goals.
Opting in to some kind of decision for an example.
Captology is not an exact science. As with games and social
networking, the devil is in the details.
Correctly providing the right kinds of choices in the right kinds
of ways however will greatly increase compliance rates.
So much so it’s actually a little frightening at times.
That is the work of a ‘choice architect’
Some choices that are presented to people are little more than
a card trick.
Pick a card, any card, you’ll always pick the one that magician
wanted you to pick.
Anchoring is the cognitive bias that results in us placing too
much emphasis on the first piece of information we are given.
Anchoring allows a choice architect to set your standards of
It’s how we can quickly assess which of the presented options we
wish to accept.
However, it can be used to distort our sense of value.
‘I wasn’t planning to pay $20! I’ll just give them $10’
Before you saw the options, you probably weren’t even planning to
give them $10.
Anchoring is tremendously difficult to avoid.
And has a big impact on compliance.
Strack and Mussweiler (1997) conducted the following simple
‘Did Mahatma Gandhi die before or after age 9?’
‘Did Mahatma Gandhi die before or after age 140?’
Participants answered and then guessed the actual age he
Average age of 50 for the first question
Average age of 67 for the second
Anchoring is very difficult to avoid.
A prime candidate for nudging.
Framing is a cousin of anchoring, and comes into effect when
choices are confused with ‘irrelevant’ options.
Dan Ariely discussed this in relation to a pricing system he
noticed for subscriptions The Economist:
Online Access - $59.00
Print Access - $125.00
Print and Online Access = $125.00
Let’s see what happens:
Framing also comes into play when providing a range of
Do I get the cheap toaster at £20?
Do I get the more expensive toaster at £50?
I’m not some fancy toast maker with all kinds of fancy toast to
make, so I’ll just get the cheap one.
What if there’s a middle option?
An expensive toaster at £200
It shouldn’t make much a difference.
But it does – more people will go for the £50 toaster than they would
if given only two choices.
Framing and Anchoring
The important thing in both these techniques is that nothing has
Your need for the toaster is no different.
The pros and cons of the different kinds of toasters remained the same.
Rationally speaking, adding an irrelevant option should not make a
Rationally speaking, we shouldn’t base our willingness to comply
on the first option we’re given.
We do, because the idea of ‘Homo Economicus’ is largely
As Dan Ariely says, we’re not just irrational we’re irrational in
depressingly predictable ways.
The Foot in the Door Technique
People are more likely to comply with a large request after
complying with a small request.
As long as the larger request is in the same general category
as the smaller request, compliance rates increase.
Cognitive dissonance, our old friend, comes into play here.
We feel a psychological need to act consistently with our previous
And sometimes, quite significantly.
Mirrored by the door in the face technique.
Ask for something preposterous and then climbing down to
something less obnoxious.
You may recognise this from much governmental policy.
Wait… remember when you said
These effects are part of the toolkit of someone looking to make
use of Captology.
Within the field of captology, we are looking to bring about
‘positive’ change through the application of technology.
Sometimes long terms, sometimes not.
Captology is all around you.
They form part of the suite of techniques you can incorporate into
technology to get people to actually use it.
Working on you through multiple different channels.
So, how do we make it happen?
All images in the next few slides taken from
Captology seeks to:
Lower the cost to perform actions.
Increase the benefit to performing actions.
The FBM defines three core motivators:
The FBM defines six simplicity factors:
Pleasure/Pain, Hope/Fear, Social Acceptance/Rejection
Time, money, physical effort, brain cycles, social deviance, nonroutine
It defines three types of trigger:
Facilitators, Sparks, Signals
Fogg Behavioural Model
Three things need to line up.
They need the motivation to perform an action.
They need the ability to perform an action.
They need to be triggered to perform the action.
I want to keep up with my social networks (motivated)
I have an account for Facebook and I know how to login (ability)
I want to see what my friends have been saying about the newest
episode of <some TV show> (trigger)
If we want to change behaviours, we look where there is a lack in
one of those three, and adjust it.
Triggers are usually the easiest of these.
We’ve talked about motivators quite a bit over the last few weeks.
‘Why people do things’ has been core to many of the lectures.
Techniques we have already discussed can work to aid in
Gamification, for example, is a prime method of addressing motivation.
And gamification, whilst having similar goals to captology, is a more
We can motivate by increasing pleasure, hope or social
We can motivate by decreasing pain, fear or social rejection.
We are Cost/Benefit Optimisers.
The human mind is incredibly good at this role.
When something is more cost than justifies its benefit, we won’t do
We can either reduce the cost (simplicity of interaction or training)
or increase the benefit (motivations).
Training is costly, and falls foul of the c/b analysis in itself.
People need to see the benefit of undergoing the training to justify the
A simpler path is to reduce the cost of interaction.
Reduce the barriers that are in people’s way.
Each of us in this room is massively ahead of the technology
As such, we tend to dramatically overestimate the technical
ability of muggles.
For every person who knows how to use a computer, there are
several who don’t.
That ratio is of course changing every year.
One of the experiments I did for my PhD involved getting older
users to step through some simple Word and Internet Explorer
It was… instructive.
Good interface design is a key lever for captology.
Make the behaviour you want from people easy to do.
If people need to go looking to find out how to accomplish a
task, they won’t do it.
In general, if you want the lowest cost for someone to do something
it has to have a big ol’ button right on the front.
The more work it takes, the less chance they will seek out how to
accomplish a goal.
Work can be anything from reading a manual to clicking through
Don’t underestimate the impact that costly activities have on
Triggers are the tool you use to create a certain kind of
behaviour at a certain time in a certain way.
Facebook is a master of this.
Emails that say you’ve been tagged in a photo.
Emails that you haven’t logged into your account in a while.
The FBM defines three kinds of trigger.
Facilitators, for high motivation but low ability
Signals for high motivation and high ability
Sparks for high ability and low motivation.
(Don’t expect to be able to trigger low ability low motivation
A good piece of persuasive technology will have all three kinds
Some will need to be unobtrusive.
Nobody likes being nagged.
Others will be more in your face.
Facilitators provides a mechanism for the behaviour that is
easy to perform.
Virus updates on one click.
Address book uploaders for social networks.
Sparks act as a way to inspire interaction.
Look what your friends have been doing with that thing you know
how to do.
Your friends are using this technology in a way that is leaving you
Signals function simply as a reminder.
Hey, remember that thing that you like? Well, see you.
Watch Dan Ariely talk about our own behaviours:
Have a read of the following papers:
Research the following cognitive biases for further information:
Foot in the Door
Captology is a powerful technique for getting people to engage
Captology is a controversial subject.
And you will likely have your own view as to how clean you feel when
Nudging is almost impossible to avoid.
Built on two key principles.
An understanding of psychology and cognitive biases.
An understanding of technology behavioural models.
And so, nudge responsibly?
We are almost always persuading someone with technology.
Even if we don’t realise it.