Persuasive Technology

Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do
B.J. Fogg, 2003
Read August 2010

Persuasive Technology is a seminal book in the area of Human-Computer Interaction. Fogg outlines many basic principles of persuasive technology, for which he coined the term “Captology” (Computers as Persuasive Technology). According to Fogg, captology

“focuses on the design, research, and analysis of interactive computing products created for the purpose of changing people’s attitudes or behaviors. It describes the area where technology and persuasion overlap” (5).

Although Fogg notes that there are many differing definitions of persuasion, he defines persuasion broadly as “an attempt to change attitudes or behaviors or both (without using coercion or deception)” (15).

Persuasive Technology focuses on the frameworks and principles of captology. The examples range from Web sites to video games to mobile phone applications. Although technology has certainly changed greatly since 2003, in particular through social networking sites such as Facebook, and with the advent of the iPhone, I still found the examples relevant. Captology focuses on interactive technologies. Video is not included, because according to Fogg, “interactive experiences can boost self-efficacy more than passive experiences” (73).

The work draws from research in cognitive psychology, and gives details about studies undertaken by the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, which is directed by Fogg. One chapter which I found immediately helpful for my project reports findings of a study on Web credibility, and provides principles for creating credibility online. Another chapter covers social influence theories and how they apply to persuasive technology.

One of my concerns regarding persuasion is an ethical concern about the nature of persuasion. Is it right for me to try to persuade others that they should or should not hold certain attitudes, or should or should not act in certain ways? What about the fact that I’m trying to persuade on behalf of the environment, which literally cannot speak for itself?

However, Fogg does not go into the ethics of persuasion itself; he focuses instead on particular ethical issues which are unique to technology. In a section entitled “Is Persuasion Unethical?” Fogg’s conclusion is that the ethics of using persuasion as a method “depends on whom you ask” (212) and “on how persuasion is used” (213).

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