Thursday, February 10, 2011



The Study of Computers

As Persuasive Technology

By John W. Shaffer

Captology is a made-up word meaning: the study of Computers As Persuasive Technology (CAPT-ology). B.J. Fogg is a professor at Stanford University and runs the Persuasive Technology Lab there. He was instrumental in developing the field of Captology. He said, "Simply put, a persuasive computer is an interactive technology that changes a person's attitudes or behaviors." (Fogg, no date, 1) A critical aspect of Captology is persuasion. He defines persuasion as, "an attempt to shape, reinforce, or change behaviors, feelings, or thoughts about an issue, object, or action." (Fogg, no date, 1) Captology includes two varieties of persuasion: "macrosuasion" and "microsuasion". Macrosuasion refers to products that are used exclusively for persuasion. Microsuasion refers to products that include components meant to persuade. (Cheng, 2003)

According to Dr. Fogg, "One key point implicit in my definition is that true persuasion must be the result of an attempt to change attitudes or behaviors; in other words, persuasion requires intentionality." (Fogg, no date) From this we can deduce that all use of computers is not Captology. There are a number of methods to use a computer to instruct or inform that do not also include an attempt to persuade the intended audience. There are also times when persuasion occurs but without any intent on the part of the developer. "A computer qualifies as a persuasive technology only when those who create, distribute, or adopt the technology do so with an intent to affect human attitudes or behaviors." (Fogg, no date) In other words computers require human interaction with the intent to persuade to be considered persuasive technology. "Most software development is about functionality and usability, and only incidentally about modifying the user." (Grosso, 2003) Since the intent to persuade is a key component of captology, software programs, web sites, or other computer technology developed without such intent do not qualify as captology.

The ability to use computers as persuasive technology has increased sequentially with the huge surge in internet usage over the last decade. However, the internet is not the only way to use computers as persuasive technology. Computer technology can be used in many other ways to persuade people.

Dr. Fogg developed what he calls a functional triad for captology. It describes three different ways people use or respond to computer technology. "First, the computer as tool makes some behavior easier to do; an example is a pocket calculator. Second, the computer as medium provides an experience to the user; an example is a virtual environment. Third, the computer as social actor creates a relationships between the user and the computer; a digital pet is an example of this." (Cheng, 2003) We will look more closely at the three parts of this functional triad in several examples below.

One example of captology as a tool is companies using automated instant messaging to send users alerts. This is also referred to as nagware. Another example of captology as a tool is using computer technology inside products intended to persuade people a certain way. Baby Think It Over®, discussed more fully in the next paragraph, is an example of this. An example of captology as medium is a simulation program designed to encourage individuals to take a particular action. Examples of captology as a social actor are the various wizards embedded into programs that attempt to encourage users to perform tasks a certain way.

Computer as tool: Realityworks, Inc. has many programs designed to influence behavior. One is the Baby Think It Over® Program (BTIO) designed to educate young people about parenting responsibilities. A main feature of this program is a life-like doll that simulates many infant needs. Participants are required to care for the dolls just as they would an actual baby. According to the mother of a 13 year old BTIO participant, "Before she had BTIO, she wanted a baby and couldn't wait to get old enough to have her own….Well, she had BTIO for 5 days and by the 4th day she was writing in her diary how much she did not like the baby and that she was not going to have a baby until she was in her 30's if ever." That quote speaks strongly to the persuasive power of BTIO (Realityworks, 2004).