From Psychology Today

How the Tech Industry Uses Psychology to Hook Children. Why do kids struggle to look up from devices? The answer is persuasive design.

Posted Oct 24, 2018   Victoria L. Dunckley, M.D.,

This guest post is written by Richard Freed, Ph.D., psychologist and author of Wired Child: Reclaiming Childhood in a Digital Age, and Meghan Owenz, Ph.D., assistant teaching professor at Penn State University and founder of ScreenFreeParenting.com.

“Something’s wrong with my son. He won’t spend time with us, won’t do his homework… all he wants to do is be in his room and play his game.”

Parents, educators, and health professionals around the world are expressing frustration and alarm that children are being lost to video games, social media, and phones. What’s vital to understand is that children’s fixation with gadgets and entertainment applications is by design. Actually, a relatively new concept called persuasive design.

Persuasive design has been in the news a lot recently. Put simply, persuasive design is the practice of combining psychology and technology to change people’s behavior. Gadgets and applications are developed by psychologists and other user experience (UX) researchers who apply behavioral change techniques to manipulate users. The concept can sound scary, however, these techniques can be used to encourage positive behaviors, such as exercise, healthy eating, and smoking cessation.

Nonetheless, persuasive design is increasingly employed by video game and social media companies to pull users onto their sites and keep them there for as long as possible—as this drives revenue. While persuasive design is applied through technology, the power to alter behavior is primarily derived from psychology. Video game developer and psychologist John Hopson describes how Skinner-box principles are used to increase video game use, comparing players to lab animals: “This is not to say that players are the same as rats, but that there are general rules of learning which apply equally to both.” In his paper “Behavioral Game Design,” Hopson explains how psychology is used to keep players staring at screens, answering questions such as: “How do we make players maintain a high, consistent rate of activity?” and “How to make players play forever.”

Persuasive design works by creating digital environments that users believe fulfill their basic human drives — to be social or obtain goals — better than real-world alternatives….SNIP

Read the full article here.

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