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Computers That Cajole

May 12, 2003 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - We all know ways that computers employ psychology to change our attitudes or behaviors.
Mostly, we see it on Web sites. A widely used technique involves providing a fun game to play or a captivating video that might have no other purpose than to get us to linger on a site or bookmark it.
If we e-mail a link for the site to a friend, the site and its technology and designers have altered our behavior slightly. The process creates a new attitude or alters an old one about the site or the brand and products behind it.
Web sites and applications use a growing variety of persuasive techniques to alter our attitudes and behaviors, and after the bursting of the dot-com bubble, there is increasing interest in "stepping back to see what really works and persuades," says B.J. Fogg, director of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University. He also coined the term captology, the science of using "computers as persuasive technologies."
In the coming years, Fogg says, captology is likely to challenge IT managers and traditional business leaders, who will see persuasive techniques become an important part of business training, management coaching and marketing.
He says captology will be used to motivate people to make better use of computers by offering helpful hints when problems occur in early uses of a new application. Applications will send e-mails that praise workers for trying them, Fogg says.
Captology will require developers to understand behavioral science as it applies to technology, Fogg says. "IT managers might not think captology is appropriate for computers and will ask why persuasion should be a part of it," he says. "They will wonder, 'Does this work, and is this relevant to my company or job?' "
Fogg ticks off a list of applications and laboratory studies indicating that captology does indeed work. In studies of human/computer reciprocity, users were discovered to be far more willing to do simple tasks for a computer, such as signing up for a newsletter or upgrading software, if the computer had provided them useful information and told them so. "The computer points to good work it's done for you, much as a good employee tells a boss, 'I've done this and this,' before asking for a raise," he says.
For example, Fogg says, a successful virus-protection program could be even more successful if it counted how many times it blocked a virus on a computer and when, then reported that information to the user before reminding him to upgrade or renew.
RSIGuard Software in Santa Cruz, Calif., has developed

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