Captology Looking Forward


The previous chapters have taken you through the fundamentals of captology, the study of computers as persuasive technologies. My goal has been to give you the resources for researching, designing, using, or simply understanding persuasive technology products, present and future. In these pages I’ve offered frameworks, such as the functional triad and the Web Credibility Grid, for conceptually organizing this dynamic area.

We’re just now witnessing the dawn of persuasive technology, in theory and in practice. Because captology is new, not only are some frameworks in this book likely to change or evolve, but many of the examples offered here represent pioneering experiments, not mature products. It’s difficult to judge the potential or pitfalls of persuasive technology on the basis of these early examples alone. Much like the early designs for flying machines, the early designs for persuasive technologies are likely to have a high failure rate. As the theory and practice of captology matures, those early examples will be replaced by far more sophisticated applications.

Competency in persuasive technology is likely to grow at a rapid rate in the coming years, due to advances in computing power and the considerable money at stake. [1 ]Research in persuasive technology should progress rapidly as well, because technology will change the way research is conducted.

In the past, studying persuasion was laborious and slow. A single study could take years to complete. Even “quick” laboratory experiments required at least a few months. And once a study was completed and documented, the results might not appear in print for a year or two, the time it takes for scholarly peer reviews, revisions, editing, typesetting, production, and so on. As a result, for the last century the scientific study of persuasion has plodded forward at a painstaking pace.

All that is changing. Today, the Internet and other computing technologies enable us to research persuasion quickly, setting up studies, recruiting participants on a large scale, collecting and analyzing data, and sharing the results online. Using these new technology systems, it is possible to conduct a study and report the results in a matter of days rather than years. [2 ]

As we learn how computers persuade people, we’ll create new insights into how people persuade other people.

There are potential drawbacks to such rapid research-and-reporting cycles, including the temptation to launch a study quickly, without awell-thought-out design; lack of time to carefully consider the results; and a rush to share results without sufficient peer review. In addition, the Internet makes it possible for anyone—not just those who are well qualified—to conduct research; there is no governing body that oversees online research efforts. The Internet also makes it easier to recruit large numbers of study participants, presenting the danger that studies will be evaluated based on the quantity of participants rather than the quality of the research.

Nevertheless, I believe the speed and relative ease of conducting research using interactive technology will change the study of persuasion forever. For better, and sometimes for worse, this new technology will spawn a new breed of researcher who will not settle for the steady but slow methods of the previous century.

Because captology is both theoretical and practical, efforts to research and design persuasive technologies are likely to become intertwined processes. Research will provide a foundation for designing new persuasive technology products, and design will serve as stimulus and inspiration for new research.

As I see it, the greatest contributions to our understanding of persuasive technology won’t come from a research lab that pursues only theory or from a gifted designer working alone. Rather, the greatest contributions will come from researchers and designers who value each others’ work and know how to work together effectively.

As we develop a deeper understanding of how computing systems can be designed to change attitudes and behaviors, I predict we’ll see a remarkable shift: knowledge about how computers persuade people will create new insights into how people persuade other people.

Let me elaborate: To date, captology has drawn on various disciplines, most notably social psychology, to predict the potential that computers have for influencing people. For example, my early hypotheses about the persuasive effects of praise from computers grew out of the social psychology research about praise from people. [3 ]Although in the past, psychology and other disciplines have shed light on persuasive technology, I’mproposing that the flow of information could reverse.

In the future, we maywell discover new influence dynamics by first studying computer-based persuasion. Then, researchers will performtests to determine if these new dynamics apply when only humans are involved. In other words, new knowledge about computer-human persuasion may give significant insight into human-human persuasion. [4 ]Although speculative, if this approach succeeds, it would offer practical advantages: we could learn how coaches, teachers, salespeople, and even parents could be more effective persuaders by first trying out influence strategies using computing systems.

[1 ]Currently there are no solid financial projections for persuasive technologies, but the market is likely to be enormous. One slice of this market, mobile commerce in Europe, gives an indication. According to the Mobile Commerce site supported by KPMG, “[a]nalysts are estimating that the European mobile commerce market alone could be worth $60 billion by 2003.” See

[2 ]For example, in my lab we are now running rapid studies from our research site,

[3 ]B. J. Fogg and C. I. Nass, Silicon sycophants: The effects of computers that flatter, International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 46(5): 551–561 (1997).

[4 ]This has already happened to a limited extent. My research on human-computer persuasion uncovered persuasion dynamics never before shown in human-human studies. Specifically, in studying the persuasive effects of affiliation, Professor Clifford Nass and I separated the affiliation construct into two elements: interdependence (people would receive the same reward or punishment as another entity) and identity (people were assigned to the same group). In essence, what we found was that interdependence, not identity, was the element that led to conformity with others and positive disposition toward others. The first few studies in this line of research involved people working with computers. After these studies showed interesting results, we replicated the study with people working with other people. We got the same results in the human-human studies.

I expect to see more of this as the pace of persuasion research quickens and as computer systems provide a way to run experiments in highly controlled ways.

Five Future Trends in Captology

My assertion about reversing the flow of persuasion theory is speculative, but other issues in captology seem quite clear. In the next few years, I anticipate five emerging trends in the study and design of computers as persuasive technologies.

Trend 1 Pervasive Persuasive Technologies

In the future, persuasive technology systems will become numerous, eventually becoming part of our everyday lives, at home and at work. Throughout history, the art of persuasion has helped people and groups reach their goals. That won’t change, and persuasion will continue to be pervasive in human life. What will change is how the persuasion takes place: increasingly, people will be persuaded via interactive technology.

Computer-based influence strategies will not only appear in typical desktop and Web applications, but they will be designed into everyday consumer products: cars, kitchen appliances, perhaps even clothing. Technology researchers and visionaries have predicted how computing systems will alter the ordinary objects and environments in our lives. [5 ]In the future, we’ll use a variety of smart products and work and live in smart environments. What I add to that vision is this: the smart products and environments of the future won’t just be about productivity or entertainment; they also will be about influencing and motivating people.

In the Persuasive Technology Lab, my students and I have explored how smart lamps and high-tech blankets could motivate energy conservation, how next-generation couches and home heating systems might encourage social interactions, and how future automobiles and neighborhood street signs could motivate safer driving. While the vast majority of such concepts will never become actual products, some will.

This future will take time to emerge; creating smart, persuasive products and environments presents significant technological and economic challenges. However, it seems clear that one platform will start running persuasive applications in the near future: mobile phones. In Chapter 8 I discussed the potential of mobile devices to enhance persuasion. I believe that, more than any other near-term innovation, introducing applications to promote e- commerce and self-help via mobile phones will make persuasive technologies commonplace.

The pervasiveness of persuasive technologies has direct implications for high-tech designers. Because many interactive systems will have persuasive elements, most high-tech designers will need to be at least somewhat familiar with captology, just as most designers are now familiar with usability. And like usability, captology may become part of a standard curriculum for people learning to design interactive computing systems.

Trend 2 Growth Beyond Buying and Branding

The second major trend deals with application areas for captology. Of the 12 domains for persuasive technologies outlined in Chapter 1,[6] the largest growth area in the near term is commerce—buying and branding through interactive systems. Already companies have shown their eagerness to promote their products, services, and brands via Web technology. As of this writing, many of these attempts are shoddy (using overwrought graphics, text, or animation; trapping users by disabling the “back” button on their browsers; tedious FAQs instead of real customer support; trick banner ads), not yet well developed (online characters designed to promote products or services), or just plain annoying (blizzards of junk mail filling your inbox, a requirement to register at a news site before you can view its streaming video content). The successful implementations of persuasive technology for e-commerce and for online promotion will live on and replicate, while unsuccessful approaches will fade away. Over time, the promotion of buying and branding through interactive systems of many types—not just the Web—will become more sophisticated and more effective.

In the future, companies that have had little to do with interactive technology will begin to leverage its potential. Specifically, companies that have core competencies in finance, fitness, personal relationships, environmental preservation, and more will see that they can accomplish their corporate goals better by using technology as a means of motivation and influence.

Already we are seeing examples of nontechnology companies offering or considering persuasive technology products. Weight Watchers has produced a pedometer to motivate fitness activity. Insurance companies are exploring the potential for using in-car surveillance systems as a way to motivate safer driving, with the lure of lower insurance rates. Merck, a pharmaceutical company that sells a drug to slow hair loss, provides an online simulation to help people see what they will look like with less hair. [7 ]Companies with established interest in a vertical market will increasingly use interactive technologies to achieve their goals. In addition, governments and politicians are sure to get more sophisticated in their use of technology to gain power through persuasion.


Healthcare is one of the vertical markets that is most likely to leverage persuasive technology. Today, you can find a large number of interactive systems designed to support health, but relatively few of these products actively motivate or persuade people to live healthier lives (the Weight Watchers pedometer is one example). We’re still in the early stages of using interactive technology for health. [8 ]

Although still in the early stages, I believe we will see many innovations in the health arena. The driver for using persuasive technology in this arena will come from insurance companies and healthcare providers that see the potential for financial gain. These institutions know that many health problems have behavioral components: smoking contributes to heart disease, unprotected sex increases risk for contracting HIV, failure to manage diabetes leads to a host of health problems. By helping people change behaviors in these and other areas, insurance companies and healthcare providers can save money and boost their profits in the process. For this reason alone, I predict that as understanding of captology increases, stakeholders in healthcare will make significant investments to develop interactive technologies that proactively promote health.


Another persuasive technology domain positioned for imminent growth is education. From the classroom to the workplace, educational designers will create computing applications that deeply motivate people to acquire new knowledge and skills. Persuasive technology can motivate people to initiate a learning process, to stay on task, and then to review material as needed. [9 ]Some interactive learning systems already incorporate influence principles, most notably in titles considered “edutainment.” The vision for educational technology is sure to expand. As sophistication increases, we’ll see adaptive education and training products that tailor motivational approaches to match each individual learner—motivating “accommodators” to learn through cause- and effect simulations, or providing “convergers” with rewards for performance on interactive problem sets and quizzes. [10 ]Perhaps even more significant will be interactive systems designed to teach people at the right time and place— nutrition education while buying groceries, or information on etiquette just before meeting with people from a different culture.

Healthcare and education are two domains of persuasive technology that are likely to grow quickly because of their financial potential. Other important domains that don’t offer immediate monetary gain, such as environmental conservation, are likely to grow only as quickly as altruistic individuals and foundations can provide the resources—which, unfortunately, will be slow compared to the pace of industry innovation.

Trend 3 Increase in Specialized Persuasive Devices

Another trend in captology will be the proliferation of devices created specifically for persuasive purposes. Today, a relative handful of such devices exist, ranging from Baby Think It Over to the Pokémon Pikachu pedometer. However, I predict that within a few years, you’ll be able to find scores of interactive devices designed to influence and motivate. The purpose of these devices will become quite narrow, using influence strategies to target a specific audience in a limited domain.

One day we could see a device that motivates college students to donate blood, or a device that helps teenagers overcome shyness. In the commercial domain, we’ll probably see innovations such as a device that motivates parents to visit a toy store as they’re driving near a mall or a device that persuades high school students to visit a certain clothing or music store once a week. Most of these specialized devices will be mobile, so they can be in the right time and place to be most effective in changing what people think or do.

The proliferation of specialized devices will result from three factors converging. First, organizations will begin to understand the potential for creating persuasive interactive devices. Once news hits the front page about a persuasive device changing the financial fortunes of a company, decision makers will start investigating possibilities for their own companies.

The next factor is cost. In the coming years, it will become significantly cheaper to create persuasive devices. Other consumer electronic devices, such as PDAs and digital pets, have experienced dramatic declines in cost over time. The same will hold true for persuasive interactive devices, as the cost factors to produce such devices (mainly, cheaper offshore labor, strong global competition, and more efficient design methods) are similar to those for producing productivity or entertainment devices.

The third factor that will drive the proliferation of persuasive devices is progress in network connectivity. Today, creating user-friendly mobile devices that access the Internet is not trivial. At least in the United States, a unified wireless data infrastructure is not yet in place; various standards and schemes are competing, with no clear winner in sight. [11 ]This should change over the next few years. As wireless technology advances and wireless standards emerge, it will become much easier to create mobile devices—or applications for these devices—that share data over a network. When connectivity becomes a trivial task, the idea of producing persuasive mobile devices will become all the more compelling.

Trend 4 Increased Focus on Influence Strategies

The fourth trend has to do with the nature of captology itself. In the coming years, the study of computers as persuasive technologies will focus more directly on computer-based influence strategies[12] wherever they occur—in Web sites, desktop productivity software, specialized devices, or in smart environments. As attempts to influence people via computing technology become more common, it will become less important to distinguish between two types of interactive products: those designed exclusively for persuasion ( macrosuasion) and those that incorporate influence strategies as part of a larger application (microsuasion).

As captology matures, the influence strategy, not the interactive product, will be the unit of analysis, the basic building block. This shift will expand the scope of captology. It’s my view that virtually all mature end-user applications—whether on the desktop, mobile, or Web-based—will eventually incorporate elements of motivation and persuasion.

We’re already witnessing this shift. Mature desktop applications that were once clearly about productivity, such as Intuit’s Quicken software, are evolving to include elements of coaching, monitoring, advising, even cross-selling (TurboTax, also made by Intuit, tries to persuade users to try Quicken).

Web sites are applying persuasion to keep visitors coming back. gives users an incentive to make it their default homepage. CNN attempts to persuade browsers to register for its premium content. The list of other applications and sites that apply persuasion is rapidly growing.

Two factors are driving this trend toward incorporating persuasion into technology products. One factor is that as applications mature, companies begin to focus not on one-time transactions but on building brand loyalty, on selling more products and services to existing customers. Designing persuasion into interactive technology products can help companies to achieve those goals.

The second driver is that, as a result of technology advances, companies are able to improve the user experience of their interactive products, extending their products’ basic functionality to provide a much broader range of services.

Quicken isn’t just a fancy calculator to balance your checkbook; it’s a personal finance adviser. Norton Utilities isn’t just a software tonic you apply when something goes wrong with your computer; it’s a proactive maintenance service. These and other products are increasingly being designed to help end users be successful in a certain domain, such as personal finance—and in the process, strengthen brand loyalty.

Focusing on influence strategies rather than on products may be inevitable for another reason: many products are no longer discrete units—a single application you install or a device you carry around. Computing products are extending beyond their former boundaries; more and more, desktop software will link to Web services, Internet content will appear on your TV screen, and portable devices will deliver real-time data from third parties. This blurring of boundaries will create new opportunities for researchers and designers of persuasive technology. Those who understand persuasive technology from the perspective of influence strategies will be able to apply their skills across the wide range of existing and emerging product categories.

Trend 5 A New Focus on Influence Tactics

As captology focuses more on influence strategies, another trend will emerge: a focus on influence tactics. By “tactics” I mean the specific implementations of influence strategies. Praise is an influence strategy. Exactly how you implement the strategy of praise in a computing product is a tactic. When it comes to computer- based praise, tactics could include a dialog box that says, “You’re doing a good job,” a music clip from the James Bond theme song “Nobody Does It Better,” or animated lizards dancing the samba across the screen in celebration. Hundreds of other tactics are possible.

While the number of influence strategies is finite, the number of potential tactics for implementing strategies is almost limitless. With new computing capabilities come more possibilities for new tactics. This is one thing that makes captology so interesting: as long as interactive technology advances, new tactics will emerge for changing people’s attitudes and behaviors.

For designers of persuasive technologies, choosing the right influence tactics is critical to the success of a product. Suppose you are designing a technology to increase compliance with an exercise program, and you determine that tracking is an important influence strategy. How will you implement the tracking strategy? Will users input their own compliance data, or will the system sense and record compliance automatically? What is the appropriate frequency for tracking each act of compliance? Daily? Weekly? What tracking metaphor will work best? Check boxes? Awarding points? How can users view their performance records? These questions might have different answers for different target behaviors and for different audiences. Choosing the correct answers—the correct tactics—will determine the product’s effectiveness in persuasion.

As captology moves forward, researchers and designers both will pay more attention to influence tactics, to determining which tactics work in which situations for what types of users. Tactics will become central to the practical world of persuasive technology in other ways. Companies are likely to create core competencies in developing specific types of technology-based tactics to influence people. A company could lay claim to being the best in creating persuasive simulations for small screens, such as those on mobile phones. Another company might focus on creating a repertoire of verbal audio elements that convey messages of praise or encouragement. Yet another company may create a system for suggesting purchases at the opportune time and place. [13]

Influence tactics also will become more important when it comes to patents. You can’t patent an influence strategy, but you can patent a specific implementation of that strategy—a tactic. One of the notable cases in the arena of persuasive technology is Amazon’s hotly contested patent for “one-click shopping,” which the company was awarded in 1999.[14] The idea of one-click shopping is based on the strategy of reduction—reducing a complex activity to a simple one—to increase persuasive power.

The issue of Amazon’s patent for one-click shopping is still a debated topic among people in the Internet world and people involved in intellectual property rights.[15] It’s likely that interactive influence tactics will eventually generate dozens if not hundreds of patents (and inevitably, many lawsuits), creating significant intellectual property related to captology.

Finally, persuasion tactics are likely to come under increasing scrutiny of policymakers because of their potential impact on the public.[16] The previous chapter on ethics pointed out how some uses of persuasive technology can be harmful to individuals and society. In the future, certain interactive influence tactics are likely to raise ethical concerns, if not public outrage. It’s not hard to imagine that stricter regulations will guard against certain tactics, such as using a gaming platform for motivating children to divulge private information about themselves and their families.[17] Policymakers can’t outlaw the use of game dynamics such as creating simulations, awarding points, or using other means to influence people, but they could ban specific implementations for specific audiences.

[5 ]For visions of how computing technologies of the future will be part of ordinary objects and environments, see

  1. Don Norman, The Invisible Computer (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998).
  2. Neil A. Gershenfeld, When Things Start to Think (New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1999).
  3. M. L. Dertouzos, What Will Be: How the New World of Information Will Change Our Lives (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997).

[6]I discuss these in Chapter 1. The 12 domains are commerce—buying and branding; education, learning, and training; safety; environmental conservation; occupational productivity; preventative health care; fitness; disease management; personal finance; and community involvement/activism.

[7 ]

[8 ]A 2001 report on the status of eHealth laments how little this field has developed. See T. R. Eng, The eHealth Landscape: A Terrain Map of Emerging Information and Communication Technologies in Health and Health Care (Princeton, NJ: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2001). See

[9 ]For a short article that describes how computer games motivate people in a training situation, see M. Feldstein and D. Kruse, The power of multimedia games, Training & Development, 52(2): 62–63 (1998).

[10 ]There are various approaches to learning styles. The approach I’m referring to here is based on David Kolb’s theory of learning styles. In Kolb’s model, the four learning styles are Diverger, Assimilator, Converger, and Accommodator.

[11 ]Asia and Europe are far ahead of the United States in some aspects of wireless data standards.

[12]You’ll find examples of influence strategies throughout this book. For example, Chapter 3 discusses strategies of tailoring, self-monitoring, and surveillance, among others;

Chapter 4 explains the strategies of simulating cause and effect and more; and Chapter 5 explains the persuasive impact of attractiveness, similarity, and more.

[13]The specialization of companies in creating or enabling influence tactics is already taking place to some extent.

[14]For an overview of the controversy, see

[15]One of the most notable opponents of Amazon’s one-click patent is Tim O’Reilly, a prominent computer trade book publisher. (See O’Reilly has offered a bounty to people who can find evidence of prior art and others conceptualizing or using one-click ordering before Amazon. In March 2001, he awarded the bounty to three different people. (See

For a long list of prior art for one-click, see

Even Jeff Bezos of Amazon has responded to the uproar by advocating a revision of the patent system. The main issue now in the Internet community is not whether Amazon should be issued the patent (that’s a done deal) but about any steps Amazon takes to enforce its patent. That’s where people want to put pressure on Amazon to step back.

An interesting blow-by-blow account of the Amazon patent story can be found at

[16]Passed by Congress in 1998, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) established strict privacy guidelines for child-oriented Web sites. Final rules on COPPA, drafted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 1999, became enforceable in April 2001. For more on this, see

[17]There are some regulations about the privacy of kids online. To find out more about the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule, see the FTC Web page at

Looking Forward Responsibly

The five trends outlined above preview the next stages of captology. Some of these trends may fade and others may emerge; it’s never been an easy task to predict where technology is headed. It becomes even more challenging to foresee the future in a domain that is relatively new and that hinges on multiple factors: academic research, economic vitality, technology innovations, and more.

One thing is certain: As computing technology becomes more deeply embedded in everyday life, new possibilities for persuasion will emerge. Whatever the form of the technology, from a desktop computer to a smart car interior to a mobile phone, it can be designed to change attitudes and behaviors—in ways we can’t fully predict.

We don’t yet appreciate all the possibilities or pitfalls associated with computers as persuasive technologies; the domain of captology is still in its infancy. But persuasive technologies will grow and mature. The precise growth path will depend, in part, on those familiar enough with persuasive technologies to help guide this developing domain.

My main purpose in writing this book was to enhance the collective understanding of persuasive technology so computing products can be created to influence people in ways that enhance quality of life. This will require at least three things: raising awareness of persuasive technologies among the general public, encouraging designers to follow guidelines for creating ethical interactive products, and taking action against individuals and organizations that use persuasive technology for exploitation. I hope this book will contribute to these worthy goals.

For updates on the topics presented in this chapter, visit

Persuasive Technology(c) Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do
Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do (Interactive Technologies)
ISBN: 1558606432
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2005
Pages: 103
Authors: B.J. Fogg © 2008-2020.
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