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Styling Sarris - The Behavioural Psychology Underpinning Addictive Technology

Cf9808b306096a913709da756edeb665?s=47 UXAustralia
August 25, 2020

Styling Sarris - The Behavioural Psychology Underpinning Addictive Technology

What incentivises us to behave in a certain way and what acts as a deterrent?

Through a myriad of experiments in his 1930s Harvard Laboratory, B.F Skinner centred his research on tackling this very question. By way of artful manipulations of the environment, Skinner observed and recorded his theory of Behaviourism - documenting how different variables impact behaviour formation and extinction. The stage in which the experiment took place - famously coined the Skinner box - told the worldfirst story of a rat psychologically hooked on food pellets.

Fast forward nearly a century later, and the protagonist amidst a tale of behavioural experimentation is no longer a mere rodent. Carrying Skinner-esque devices in our pockets, the everyday user has become victim to all sorts of covert behavioural manipulation they are not privy to. Despite being heralded as tools with emancipatory potential, software products have graduated with the times - now augmenting old tricks to design new behaviours.

As the custodians of a product’s experience, our remit goes beyond merely alleviating user pain points and creating ‘delightful’ experiences. We design behaviours. And with this, comes a newfound responsibility.

In this talk, we will explore how products leverage tricks from behavioural psychology to keep users ‘hooked’, and how we can use this knowledge to avoid designing with dark patterns and ultimately become better practitioners.



August 25, 2020


  1. The Behavioural Psychology Underpinning Addictive Technology

  2. addiction Storyline Content A little bit about me and how

    this talk transpired • The Skinner box • Operant Conditioning • The world as a series of Skinner boxes • Intermittent Schedules of Reinforcement • Examples of how these tricks are employed Designing microsessions and removing extraneous / confounding variables Appraising morality by asking yourself the right questions. Overarching Objective
  3. Experience Design Psychology Philosophy Experience Design Behavioural Psychology Social and

    Personality Psychology Advanced Statistics Cognitive Psychology Neuroscience Neuroethics Ethical Theory Metaphysics Non Classical logic Epistemology Philosophy of Science
  4. VA mobile app redesign | Transpire Lead User Researcher 2017-2018

    Vodafone Foundation’s DreamLab | Transpire Lead User Experience Designer 2016-2019 AGL’s Virtual Power Plant Service | Transpire User Researcher 2019
  5. None
  6. Behaviourists posit that thoughts and feelings are impossible to observe

    Subjective Inconsistent Hard to measure empirically Our attitudes and behaviour are oftentimes incongruous
  7. Instead, we should shift our focus to observing how an

    operant’s shapes what it does. Easier to measure empirically Can measure at scale - Behavioural Economics
  8. None
  9. The Stage The Props A lever - neutral stimulus Food

    dispenser - reward Electric grid - punishment
  10. Operant Behaviour Reinforcement + or - Punishment + or -

    Increases likelihood of desired behaviour being repeated again Decreases likelihood of undesired behaviour being repeated again Theory of Operant Conditioning
  11. None
  12. Technology Macrosystems Economics, Political, Education, Government, and Religious Systems Institutions

    Education and Workplace Immediate Relationships Viewing life amidst a series of various sized Skinner boxes Individual • •
  13. Sovereignty takes new form - no longer defined by Geography

    New avenue for political warfare EXAMPLES
  14. In your pocket Around your wrist In your ear Soon…

    in your brain Neuralink Every interface can be seen as a tremendously powerful Skinner box that comes in all shapes and sizes.
  15. We design behaviours.

  16. None
  17. Behaviour Reinforcement Increase the likelihood of a desired behaviour being

    repeated again Positive + Negative -
  18. Order Confirmation POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT positively reinforces

  19. Facebook Text Effects POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT positively reinforces

  20. Filters NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT reinforce you removing

  21. NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT Zoom Virtual Background assuages aversive stimulus

  22. Desired behaviour is reinforced every time it occurs Most effective

    when teaching a new behaviour Creates a strong association between user behaviour and response Continuous
  23. The more unpredictable the reward, the more addictive the system

  24. Intermittent Desired behaviour is reinforced at an unpredictable frequency or

    time Most effective once a behaviour has been established Different speed of behaviour acquisition and the behaviour’s ‘resistance to extinction’.
  25. responses Variable Ratio Reinforcement Schedule

  26. responses Variable Ratio Reinforcement Schedule times enjoy

  27. Variable Interval Reinforcement Schedule when

  28. None
  29. Design for Microsessions Frequency of user interaction is more conducive

    to developing a habit than the duration of the visit.
  30. Carefully control for extraneous variables. Remove distractor stimuli

  31. Combination is everything. Spotify Yearly Top Songs playlists Discover weekly

    & Release Radar Intermittent schedule of reinforcement
  32. None
  33. How do we apply this theory morally and do right

    by our users?
  34. None
  35. Ask yourself, “what behaviour am I designing?”

  36. Styliana Sarris