The scientists who make apps addictive


Image from ‘The Scientist Who Make Apps Addictive’, The Economist, article by Ian Leslie, October/November 2016

Scientist B.F Skinner from Harvard University, who was a mainly influenced by the theories of behaviourism in psychology claims that human behaviour is best understood as a function of incentives and rewards. Instead of focusing on the emotions and internal mental processes, behaviourism focus on how the external environmental conditions shapes the ‘operant’s’ actions and choices.

Designing the environment in a way it influences user’s choices is the essential focus of ‘design behaviour’ and to it’s founder B.J. Fogg, scientist in Stanford University. Fogg is interested in the topic of how computers might be used to influence the behaviour of their users making the point that ‘interactive technologies’ are not only tools for work, but had become integral part of people’s everyday lives. Yet he doubts that technologist invest time in inventing new devices rather than on the people using those machines.


Image from ‘The Scientist Who Make Apps Addictive’, The Economist, article by Ian Leslie, October/November 2016

Behaviour design is now embedded in almost any operating system including the adverts which pop-up from your browser to the e-mails which nudge you to look at a website, all designed to hack our minds and manipulate the choices we make.

Numerous Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and engineers have passed through Fogg’s laboratory at Stanford, and some have made themselves wealthy. In Leslie’s article he describes the tree factors which triggers our decision making process and how their effect can be reinforced. First and most important – the person must want to do it, it should be easy for him to do it straightaway and he should be prompted to do it. Interesting is the fact that the the trigger must come at the right time and moment in order the person to be responsive to them.The more immediate and intense a rush of emotion a person feels the first time they use something, the more likely they are to make it an automatic choice.


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