Persuasive Design in HCI

Fall 2017. Instructors: Geoff Kaufman and Joselyn McDonald

Class/reading notes and reflections

8.29.17 | Introduction and Class Overview

Mostly going over kinds of topics we’ll go over in class

8.31 | Embedded Design Approach to Game Design and Evaluation

Embedded— not being overly didactic/obvious with interventions

  • Often our judgments of perception are influenced by factors outside our awareness. ex: holding warm/cold water and then how you perceive a person’s warmth
  • Offering reward for a service increases likelihood of getting them to do it. ex: AT&T store offering chance to take picture with GoT chair in exchange for them listening to demo
  • Offer an inducement that’s “just enough” to incentive them but not so much that they’re suspicious

Question: ^ how would something like this be measured?

  • Social proof/de-individuation when in a crowd; especially when you’re not identifiable (wearing a uniform)

Idea: every time Geoff has a mental choice, he imagines something/someone that gives him guilt that persuades him to act in the way he thinks is better but doesn’t want to.

9.1 | Reading: Game Design Persuasion

Psychologically “embedded” approach to designing games for prosocial causes


  • When the intentions are too obvious, it triggers players’ psychological defenses or reduces players potential engagement/enjoyment of game
  • Many games use role play/practice believing that more informationbehavior change. But that’s not true. Instead, it could:
  1. Reinforce stereotypes. Ex: Overcompensating for lack of representation isn’t very effective. Over-representation of girls in computer science has negative effects. Makes them more aware of their gender or see how different they are from the role models
  2. Trigger psychological defenses → increased resistance
  3. Denial for one’s need for such interventions in the first place

Embedded Design Approach

Think about that “no drunk driving” talk we had senior year of high school where instead of the typical people preaching to us about the negativities of drunk driving, it was just a one man show about how lives intermingle with another, making us aware of how our actions may have consequences we don’t notice.

Strategy 1: Embedding with Intermixing

  • Focal with non-focal content that “distracts” attention from game’s persuasive goals or makes persuasive content more approachable
  • Making a game that has both bias-prone and bias-neutral content

Strategy 2: Embedding through obfuscating

  • Could use genres that are approachable/removed from didactic nature of content (ex: party games)

Strategy 3: Distancing

  • Offer a safe space/buffer between players and serious/uncomfortable themes often by using analogy/metaphor. (ex: talking about vaccination/disease by calling it “ZOMBIEPOX”)

9.5 | Embedded Design

Reviewing embedded design paper and discussing strengths and weaknesses of existing educational games regarding bias
Example of what NOT to do
uses intermixing, bias teaching intentions are masked

Awkward Moment on Amazon!

uses obfuscationg. came from definition of buffalo: “to outwit or puzzle”. bias teaching intentions are masked
originally intended to garner anti-capitalistic sentiments

Reading: Psychology of Self and Change

How our self views can be either barriers or catalysts to change


screenshot of what I posted on our class discussion board

9.7 | Class: Self-Concept


  • the sum total of knowledge/beliefs we have about our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, abilities, traits, etc.
  • Repeating this exercise several times over a month can help us see most salient self-schemas

Culture affects variation in self-schema

  • Ex: individualism vs collectivism in Western and Eastern ideologies
  • Individualism values autonomy and self-reliance. “What makes you unique?”
  • Collectivism values cooperation, harmony “how do you work together towards a common goal?”

2 Key Questions

  1. What are the sources of self-knowledge?
  • Comparisons to other people/the environment (those people also integrated into self-concept)
  • Other people’s responses/reactions to you
  • When you form close relationships, you see merge of each others’ self-concepts
  • Social/demographic/interest groups you belong to
  • Baseline temperament/susceptibility to mental and physical health are partially genetic. Esp. if you are constantly aware of it, it would become part of your self-concept

2. How accurate does self-knowledge tend to be?

  • Not always accurate, since some people may look for best or worse aspects of self (fun fact: people who are depressed tend to have more accurate self-concepts lol)


  • Studies found that < 8% of randomly sampled daily thoughts are about the self. In fact, people think that self-thought is unpleasant
  • When we do introspect, the true reasons for our thoughts/feelings/behaviors might be hidden from awareness (so not that accurate)
  • ^ It’s called the introspection illusion
  • Ease of retrieval/Level of effort would inform how we see ourselves. Ex: people who were asked to come up with only 5 examples of courageous acts more likely to consider selves courageous in comparison to groups of people who were asked to come up with 30 examples.
Fun fact! Geoff is working on a research topic analyzing social media activity (ex: Tumblr) affecting identity development of pre-teens/teenagers (oh my lol)
  • We tend to overestimate our change from past — present, and underestimate how much we will change present — future

Affective Forecasting

  • We’re not very good at predicting our emotions either
  • Focalism: we tend to focus on event itself and not the surrounding context the event occurs
  • Impact bias: we tend to overestimate intensity and duration of emotional responses
  • Immune Neglect: we often fail to consider our “psychological immune system” and its ability to help us adapt/cope to adverse events

Other Biases

Interesting how even though we tend to not think about ourselves, we think others think a lot about ourselves
  • Illusion of Transparency: we overestimate how much people can tell if we’re lying or trying to conceal an emotional/physical reaction
  • Spotlight Effect: Overestimating how much people pay attention to us
  • Social Comparison Theory: lack objective standard, tend to look to others for comparison standard. With whom do we compare ourselves?
  • Lateral: comparing to similar; Goal: self-assessment
  • Upward: comparing to those who are better; Goal: self-improvement,
  • Downward: compare to others are are worse; Goal: feeling good about self.

Largely because you’re so inexperienced that you don’t have adequate gauge of competency.

9.10 | Reading: Nudges

  • Nudge: persuasion tactics that assume and target people’s 1)propensity to choose options that demand the least (physical or intellectual) effort (i.e., the path of least resistance) 2 propensity to conform or succumb to prevailing group norms and peer pressure 3) eagerness to identify with peer groups or valued groups that provide them with positive self-esteem.
  • Nudges can backfire and come off as condescending
  • Ethical concerns: some people argue that nudges cause to choose things they wouldn’t have chosen had they been given the opportunity to reflect and deliberate (but does free will ever exist?)
  • Concern about the elitist assumption that ‘ordinary people’ are prone to make erroneous decisions and that government experts know best what constitutes ‘the good life’
  • Social identity affects how effective certain persuasion tactics are (ex: wanting to fit in vs wanting to stand out)
  • Associating a behavior with identity helps last the changes. Non-coercive methods over time help change last. However, these methods are $$$
  • What is needed to achieve lasting behaviour change is an approach that engages with humans as social beings, who try to make sense of the world they live in, and who look to others who they perceive as similar to themselves for meaningful forms of guidance.


quick notes on reactions to this piece

The definition of “nudge” tactics looks down on humans, targeting their propensities. It seems to backfire when the targeted people are aware of the condescending tone and complain. However, since it’s not inherently malicious, I find the ethics of “nudge” tactics to be a difficult area to navigate. I’m reminded of two similar persuasive techniques I’ve learned: dark patterns and “facilitation”, or as professor Dan Lockton describes, “understanding what people are doing, and helping them do it differently”.

Dark patterns in UX are designs meant to trick people into an action that benefits the company, often at the cost of the user. For instance, sign up or purchase buttons for ads may be placed in more convenient locations/more conspicuous, causing someone to easily press it by accident. By definition, dark patterns are questionable. In contrast, ethics in the redirection in Lockton’s description depends on the particular person’s values. Ultimately, this paper asserts that best way to be ethical is to ensure those in the decision making power are aware that even their decisions may not be the best, to bring some humility in their decisions and cause them to reflect more.

9.19 | Class: Online Social Identities and Dual Process Theories

There are two processes that happen for any kind of cognitive task: “system 1 and system 2” or “fast and slow”
This has 5,000 ‘likes’ so it must be funny
  1. system 1: fast, unconscious, automatic, every day decisions, error prone

2. system 2: slow, conscious, effortful, complex decisions, reliable

Thought suppression is ineffective way of tackling biases. “Don’t say [this]” makes you think of it more easily

9.21 | Class: Attitude

Triparte Model

  • Affect: emotional responses to the attitude object. Sometimes people use only positive or negative emotions to represent overall attitude on something. (Ex: The people I dislike, I dislike because I focus on the negative emotional responses with that person)
  • Behavior: behavior toward the attitude object
  • Cognition: Thoughts/beliefs toward the attitude object

None of these are mutually exclusive, there’s always an overlap (think my questions about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation). Eating a burrito could make you happy (affect) and then you’re always eating them (behavior) but you’ve heard about health violations (cognition) so overall you like chipotle burritos quite a bit!

Persuasion is, by definition, manipulative because we’re trying to change one of those elements above.

Key Factors of Communication

“Why says what in which channel to whome with what effect?
  • Who: the source
  • Says what: the content
  • In which channel: the medium
  • To whom: the audience
  • With what effect: the outcome (some change in attitude/behavior) From perspective of person being persuaded, their outcome could be resistance

System 1

peripheral route. occurs when you need to elaborate less, focus on cues or heuristics. on spur of moment, leads to less stable, shorter-lived attitude change

System 2

central route. engaging people with deep process of thought, focus on strength of a message’s argument. leads to more stable, long-lasting attitude change.

Viable course project: what are ways of priming a more system 2 processes How do people switch between these two systems? → Elaboration will be highest when both motivation and ability are high.
  • Examples of ability factors: distraction, fatigue, knowledge, intelligence, etc.
  • Examples of motivational factors: personal relevance of message, enjoyment of thinking
  • Memories for a source decays a lot faster than memory for actual message, so using a weak source but powerful message is quite persuasive (why people are susceptible to fake news)

Resistance Mechanisms

  • Forewarning: giving advance notice about persuasive attempt to invite them to generate counterarguments
  • Attitude Inoculation: initially exposing people to “small doses” of arguments against a position can make them “immune” (ex: role playing counter arguments to smoking peer pressure)
  • Reactance: be too forceful ’cause when people feel they’re being coerced too forcefully, their natural reaction is defense mechanisms

Do Attitudes Predict Behavior?

<look through these slides for tuesday>

9.26 | Persuasion via Conformity and Compliance

Behavioral attitude + subjective norms + perceived behavioral control → intention → behavior

Thought: this class is more about forms of persuasive communication design/information design. How does persuasive interaction or product design manifest?

  • Attitudes can predict spontaneous behaviors
  • Subliminal messaging: studies have shown that you can’t use subliminal messaging to make someone believe something unless they already have an inkling of that belief
  • Conformity: changes in judgments or behaviors that result from one’s perception of social norms
  • Compliance: changes in judgments or behavior that are requested by another person or group
  • Informational influence: looking to others to see what is “correct” or “best”
  • Normative Influence: conforming out of fear of being perceived as deviant
  • Group Polarization: when a group discusses an idea, they usually come out with an exaggerated or subdued version of everyone’s beliefs. (EX: discussion increases number and persuasiveness of arguments. Hearing similar arguments validates our reasoning)
  • Groupthink: group decision-making style in which maintaining group cohesiveness and solidarity is more important than considering the facts through a more thorough or realistic manner

9.28 | Compliance

6 well known norms that can be exploited to gain compliance: reciprocity, social proof, consistency, liking, authority, scarcity
  1. Reciprocity: one way to do it is “pre-favor”; giving a gift first to invite giving back. Another method is called “door-in-the-face” where you first ask an outrageous request and then say what you actually wanted. People feel obligated to concede and also compromise to the second request
  2. Social proof: using social norms as guidance for how you should act. Ex: salting the tip jar (putting money in the tip jar yourself) in the industry a lot of companies hire people to put positive reviews on their products online. Fun fact! Someone in HCI did a study on whether people or computers can tell the difference between real or synthetic reviews.
  3. Need for consistency and commitment: people are motivated to be consistent. (Root of cognitive dissonance theory) “foot-in-the-door” technique where you start with something small and implore people to agree to further requests due tip desires to commit to agreement. People tend to want to say “yes”. If you give a reason for a request, even if it’s inane, people are more likely too agree.
  4. Liking: people are more likely to agree with someone they like (attractiveness plays a part)
  5. Authority: more likely to comply to someone we perceive has authority
  6. Scarcity: the fact that something is going fast suggests that it is desirable. However, scarcity might lead to the opposite effect (like having only one bushel of carrots left makes people not want to buy it ‘cause it feels like the bottom of the barrel). One explanation could be when there’s variation between the individual items. There’s no difference between a line of tickle-me-elmo’s but there would be more
  • Perspective of target: being aware is the first defense; approach decisions mindfully
  • Perspective or requestor: effective for one-time interactions or short term requests. Can be used to elicit positive pro-social behavior (not just sales or votes)%

10.3 | Cognitive Dissonance

  • Hypocrisy is a challenge to one’s self concept and so individuals are prompted to change behaviors (or twist justifications) to defend it.
I’m having trouble placing the context of these persuasive techniques in design: the topics we’ve covered seem to be more information design/communication design related, which is only a part of behavior change. How can concepts of persuasion be embedded into interactions, systems/experiences, or products?
  • These persuasion techniques also seem to be more helpful in getting people motivated or encouraging them to continue a certain behavior rather than providing the tools/environment to actually do something.
  • Idea from classmate: Perhaps gentle uses of language or visual imagery or emotions in the interface to position an opinion. Ex: labelling a person in a learning app as a diligent student so when they don’t practice as much, the product literally or implicitly shows their decrease in performance.

10.5 | Priming and Framing

What can be primed?

  1. Emotional states
  2. Traits
  3. Goals
  4. Attitudes
  5. Stereotypes
  6. Behaviors
  7. Mindsets.

How do we prime?

  1. Subliminal priming (below the level of consciousness)
  2. Superluminal priming (presenting at conscious level)
  • Priming stereotypes causes people to more likely adhere to stereotypes traits. (Ex: reminding women of their gender when taking a math/science related assessment)
  • Real life EX: on portfolio website, had a few seconds to load the site and while the site is loading, add positive emotions

5 Fundamental Domains of Human Morality

  1. harm/care (concerns about the caring for and protection of other people)
  2. fairness/reciprocity (concerns about treating other people fairly and upholding justice)
  3. in-group/loyalty (concerns about group membership and loyalty),
  4. authority/respect (concerns about hierarchy, obedience, and duty)
  5. purity/sanctity (concerns about preserving purity and sacredness often characterized by a disgust reaction).
  • Liberals tend to focus more on harm/care and fairness/reciprocity whereas conservatives focus more on authority/respect.
  • Example intervention by classmate: Let’s say we assigned a computer the objective task of increasing recycling levels among a population of 100,000 people. The computer could provide conversational, chatbot style interventions on smartphones to any of these users, and they could vary by user. The system could determine which domain of morality appeals to the person the most and adjust recommendations accordingly.

10.10 | Embodied Cognition and “Stealth” Interventions

Reading Notes

  • Psychologists theorize that thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are grounded in bodily interactions with the environment. EX: does the weight of a recruiter’s clipboard affect their opinion of a candidate?
  • Likewise, we connect thoughts, feelings to concepts in the physical world. EX: a good friendship is “close” whereas a weak one is “distant”
  • EX: Love as a journey, warm/cold for interpersonal relations, inside/outside for self.

Below are examples of other topics and their respective metaphors

  • Understanding how people think of concepts as metaphors could make designed experiences more compelling. EX: we see knowledge as growth, so the Forest app grows a virtual tree as you stay away from your phone, as if mirroring the growth of your own knowledge.

10.17 | What is Design? — Joselyn Lecture

Design: moving from current to where we want to be

Stemmed from Herbert Simon

everyone who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones

Push back: in moving design into the academic sphere makes it seem design can only be done by people who have formally trained in design.

Auto-ethnography (self-reflection)

What is the problem you’re addressing? Reducing screen time and reliance on technology from a mental and physical health perspective. Our reliance on technology saps our attention, taking away from physical activity, time outdoors, and face to face socialization even when people are easily accessible. We’ve also developed unhealthy posture as a result of how we use our technology. From a mental health perspective, viewing the world from a funnel distorts the information we receive, causing us to make incomplete conclusions and/or affecting our self-esteem.

Who is impacted? What is the realm? While everyone is impacted, for the sake of practicality we’ve decided to narrow our scope to college students and teachers.

Why do you care and why do you think there should be an intervention? Why isn’t the current state acceptable? I’ve personally sat through an hour of internet only to feel disgusted at how sedentary I was. I’m also frustrated with the lack of trust on social media, as well as how people rely on their phones even in moments of nothing-ness (a lull in a conversation, standing in an elevator). Not only is “being bored” recuperating, but it sends the message that other things are more important right now.

What do you think the preferred state is? Instead of omitting technology, we should instill more self-control in how much we use technology, and our care for things in the 3 dimensions.

Various Design Methods

  • Leaving interviews until later because often we might bias the research with the questions we ask

10.26 | Goal Pursuit and Habit Formation

  • Goals: the way we represent a desired end-point. Serve as focal-points.
  • Goals can be concrete (e.g. get an A in programming) or abstract (e.g. be a better partner to my boyfriend)
  • Can be primed, outside of conscious awareness
  • Intrinsic needs often derived from basic human needs (Maslov, Max-Neef)