Mobile persuasion is an exciting field of development that combines phone technology with persuasive psychology. This article defines mobile persuasion, and provides recent examples of its use in the United States and elsewhere. The text looks at medical, social, and environmental applications of mobile persuasion. Six resources are listed.
Have you been a target of mobile persuasion? If you’ve ever received a text message reminding you of an upcoming doctor’s appointment, you have. A paper published by the John Hopkins InterNetworking Research Group (HiNRG) describes mobile persuasion as,
…technologies designed to change users’ attitudes or behaviors through persuasion and social influence, but not through coercion.
Mobile phones, especially smartphones, are prime candidates to deliver mobile persuasion. Instant messages, like appointment reminders, as well as email, games, and self-reporting or sensor programs, such as GPS, can be used for mobile persuasion.
Mobile persuasion technology is developed by commercial enterprises and nonprofits alike for many purposes. It is helpful to classify these persuasive tools by category.
Medical Mobile Persuasion
Mobile phones are perhaps the most effective tool to deliver persuasive programs, because they are inexpensive and ubiquitous. For this reason, they have been very effective in reaching poorer populations in the United States and around the world to promote healthcare.
For example, in 2008 children receiving Medicare were eligible to participate in a mobile app program that encouraged them write daily comments on the status of their asthma. Caregivers at San Mateo Medical Center in California helped monitor the children’s condition, providing feedback and assistance. The result was a decrease in expensive emergency care, and increased preventative care compliance.
Environmental Mobile Persuasion
Environmental applications for persuasive technology include such programs as “What’s Invasive!” “What’s Invasive!” engages public participants to report plants or animals that do not belong in a location, and are harmful to the natural habitat – especially federal parks. The app is the result of collaboration between universities and the National Park Service. As of August 2014, the program’s website reported over eleven thousand observations of invasive instances around the country.
Social Mobile Persuasion
USAID, a government agency which provides relief in poverty-stricken areas around the world, has been very aggressive in implementing persuasive technology. In 2013, the agency created a program (“Helping Farmers Save”) that provides incentives to farmers in Mozambique to save money for planting season.
Similar projects by this agency include the “USAID-Citi Mobile Money Accelerator Alliance,” which encourages the development of mobile-money ecosystems around the world to reduce corruption, and increase government transparency. Programs like this help local populations participate more effectively in the economy.
The Future of Mobile Persuasion
The potential of mobile persuasion is enormous. According to USAID, the world now uses over 7 billion mobile phones, and this number increases every year. B.J. Fogg, one of the earliest proponents and innovators of mobile persuasion, believes mobile persuasion will increasingly become a catalyst to shape behavior and change opinions.
Of course, there are still barriers. A recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine maintains that persuasive apps will need to incorporate sound evidence-based behavioral science principles to be effective. The persuasive app also needs to engage its user over a period of time.
While these are real challenges, universities and research industries continue to develop effective programs which may continue to shape human behavior in the future.
- “What’s Invasive!” (2014). Citizen Science. Scientific American.
- “Daily Patient-Provider Communication and Data Transfer Using Mobile Phones Improves Outcomes and Reduces Costs for Teens With Chronic Asthma.” (2008). Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- “Mobile Persuasion: Can mobile phones and cutting-edge behavioral science improve lives?” (2014). Impact. USAID. April 24.
- “Mobile Persuasion.” (2010). Stanford Persuasive Tech Lab.
- Zhan, Andong; Jong Hyun Lim, and Andreas Terzis. (2011). “DailyAlert: A Generic Mobile Persuasion Toolkit for Smartphones.” John Hopkins InterNetworking Research Group (HiNRG).
- Azar, Kristin M.J., et. al. (2013). “Mobile Applications for Weight Management: Theory-Based Content Analysis.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 45(5). November. pp. 583-589.