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UX Planet 6 июля 2020 г. Lorenzo Doremi

Exposing the trickster hidden in your pockets

Photo by Ashley Baxter on Unsplash

Nomophobia is a well-known term nowadays: the fear of not using mobile phones. In fact, in the last 10 years, the use of mobile-phones exponentially increased, leading to new kinds of obsessions and addictions. But how severe is this new modern problem? and why does it even happen? Let’s expose this technological monster we keep in our pockets and learn more about how persuasive technologies are developed.

A growing problem

Duration of smartphone use other than calling purpose. thanks to this study

If you ever felt anxious, stressed, or scared because you were on low-battery or left your cellphone at home, you probably suffer from nomophobia. The scary thing is that 66% of people suffer from this problem.
Nomophobia is extremely related to prolonged daily phone use, and there is also a strong correlation between mobile phone addiction and lower academic results. So, it’s not just about your mental health, but also your career.

But why do we get addicted to mobile use?

The “dopamine dealer”

Like every kind of addiction, mobile phones are “dopamine dealers”. The most important similarity between behavioral addictions and mobile-phone usage is the trigger of chemicals in our brain, which make us feel “good”.
In fact, social interaction stimulates dopamine release, thus lurking us in a “get a reward” situation.

In general, we can assert that mobile phones trick us on getting addicted by providing us a simple, fast, and secure way to stimulate our “being rewarded” sensation.

But how mobile app designers exploit this witchcraft?

Photo by Artem Maltsev on Unsplash

13 Principles of social and mobile persuasion

In the creepy and dark underground of Stanford University, works a man named Brian Jeffrey Fogg. Fogg founded the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, later renamed as Behavior Design Lab. In this lab, he studied and discovered how technology can persuade humans in changing, modifying, or creating new behaviors.

Fogg also found out that some precise techniques help designers to develop persuasive technologies. Let’s analyze the 13 principles Fogg discovered in his studies.

  1. Kairos: Offering suggestions at opportune moments.

Kairos is the first principle: by offering suggestions at opportune moments, we can intervene exactly when the user needs. This is helpful in two different ways: the technology will not invade the personal space of the user, and also will try to modify the user’s behavior when he’s more vulnerable.

A great example of Kairos is suggesting restaurants that are in the vicinities, by knowing his location.

Photo by henry perks on Unsplash

2. Convenience: granting a 24/7 service.

An always-available service is extremely persuasive because we can always count on its help. There are a lot of examples but just think of huge companies like Facebook, who invest millions of dollars in extremely stable servers. On the other way, you would never become addicted to something you can’t access.

Photo by Jordan Harrison on Unsplash

3. Simplicity: The easier it gets, the more you will use it.

You’ll always prefer simple things rather than intricate ones. Think of Tinder or Instagram: few actions are required to accomplish tasks, and this helps you in repeating effortlessly these actions. Simplicity is a great source of addiction. I have written an article on how simple gestures and interactions lead to viral usage here.

4. Mobile Loyalty: a servant is better than a boss.

Users feel mobile-phones as a part of themselves, and this creates a strong bond with them. By creating a servant-master relationship helps the user feeling in control of its phone: probably there is no more satisfying feeling that having someone (or something) helping us in everything we need. Famous applications of this principle are Siri, Amazon’s Echo, and Alexa.

How much can we trust them? source

5. Mobile Marriage: a bond strengthens in time.

Persuasive apps should grow with the user, creating strong relationships, and giving positive support. An example of this principle is every kind of fitness app: it encourages you in getting better and congratulates with you for your achievements.

6. Social Facilitation: social interactions are dopamine stimulants.

As we saw previously, social interactions are great sources of dopamine. By helping the user connecting with other people, he can perform a target behavior more easily thanks to the support of others. The biggest example: Facebook.

Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

7. Social Comparison: “If he does that, I have to do it too”

Social comparison helps performing targeted behaviors by forcing the user to compare himself with others and understand “what should be done”. Now it’s not only the app that helps targeting a particular behavior, but the community too.

8. Social Learning: Learning behaviors from others

Similar to Social comparison, Social learning helps people changing behavior by observing others. A personal example would be Medium.com: As I started as a UX designer, I didn’t know what UX designers do. Thanks to Medium.com I started writing and researching about more topics in user experience and human-computer interaction.
So yes, Medium.com had success with me.

9. Cooperation: the strength of each member is the team.

By receiving support from other people in achieving your objectives, we feel that the app is useful and appealing. Think of how many times you used Yahoo Answers, Quora, or StackOverflow: you consider them of huge help. These are perfect examples of cooperation.

10. Competition: “I am the best”.

Videogames, videogames, videogames. Multiplayer games make of Competition principle their workhorse. You would never play any Battle Royale like Fortnite if it was a game against yourself only.
Competition often doesn’t even need some kind of reward: by just being better than others, your dopamine levels rise to the stars.

Photo by Vlad Gorshkov on Unsplash

11. Recognition: Rewards are the most rewarding thing, Pun intended.

“User of the month”, “Diamond rank” and “Winner” are all types of recognition. Rewards are not always needed, but they indeed help us feel better. By giving the user recognition of his achievements, he will perpetuate his behavior.

12. Peer Pressure: “I am worse than others.”

Extremely similar to social comparison and competition, social normative (or peer pressure), forces users to compare their success with others. Instagram’s workhorse, peer pressure leads to a “self-empowerment need” feeling: by wanting to be good as others, users will change their attitudes and behaviors.

13. Information Quality: “He knows what he says”

Similar to Cialdini’s authority heuristic, Information quality is fundamental in persuasive technologies:

how much would you use and trust a GPS that tells that you are in the middle of the Indian Ocean while driving home in Berlin?

By granting quality information, the user will use the application more often and more happily.

I’ll use it again for sure. source


Persuasive technologies are very insidious, and we often forget how powerful our mobile phone is. On the other side, when designing an app we have to remember these practices, because neglecting too many of them can lead to a total failure.


  1. https://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2012/09/27/study-66-of-people-have-nomophobia-fear-of-being-without-phone/#:~:text=PHILADELPHIA%20(CBS)%20%E2%80%93%20A%20recent,53%20percent%20to%2066%20percent
  2. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/cell-phone-addiction#dopamine-connection
  3. https://uxplanet.org/how-memetics-define-the-future-of-human-computer-interaction-245cdcb45b3b

Exposing the monster hidden in your pockets was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Источник: UX Planet

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