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Persuasive Computing

When a computer influences a human…

Abhijit Rao

Manipal Institute of Technology

Department of Computer Engineering

Manipal, India.


This paper gives a brief opening to an area where decision and actions revolves around the pivot of human experience. Computers will have influence on human practices. Some spheres of life may be better of will some sort of persuasion. Human-Human persuasions are what we are familiar with but just imagine what if we replace human with a computer. This is what persuasive computing is all about.


Persuasion has always been part of the human experience. From ballads to bible stories, parents to personal trainers, people have always sought to influence others’ attitudes and behaviors. Although many of us resist the idea of being persuaded, most of us seek skilled persuaders for ourselves and our significant others.

The human persuaders in our lives, persuasive computing technologies can bring about constructive changes in many domains, including health, safety, and education. In the process, computers can help us improve ourselves, our communities, and our society. But persuasive computers can also be used for destructive purposes; the dark side of changing attitudes and behaviors leads toward manipulation and coercion. In order to achieve the potential and avoid the pitfalls of persuasive computing, a small but growing group of ACM members has been exploring the theory, design, and analysis of computers as persuasive technologies—an area we call “captology” (based on an acronym derived from Computers As Persuasive Technologies; see

During the past few years, captologists in universities and industry have increased our knowledge of key issues in this area, but one thing is clear to those of us close to the domain: Not only do we, as a scientific community, need to understand more about the persuasive technologies that already exist, we need more insight into what could exist, and perhaps more important, what should exist.

What is a persuasive computer?

Simply put, a persuasive computer is an interactive technology that changes a person’s attitudes or behaviors. This definition works well in many cases, but a more thorough definition gives a better understanding of persuasive computing.

The psychology literature suggests many definitions for the word ‘persuasion”. After reviewing the work of persuasion scholars, various definitions were synthesized to define “persuasion” as “an attempt to shape, reinforce, or change behaviors, feelings, or thoughts about an issue, object, or action.”

Persuasion and intentionality

One key point in this definition is that true persuasion implies an intent to change attitudes or behaviors; in other words, persuasion requires intentionality. Therefore, not all behavior or attitude change is the result of persuasion. For example, a rain storm may cause people to buy umbrellas, but the storm is not a persuasive event because it has no intentional associated with it. (However, if an umbrella manufacturer could somehow cause rain, then the rain storm might qualify as a persuasive tactic.)

Because machines do not have intentions, a computer qualifies as a persuasive technology only when those who create, distribute, or adopt the technology do so with an intent to affect human attitudes or behaviors. To be clear, the persuasive nature of a computer does not reside with the object itself; instead, a computer being classified as “persuasive” depends on the context of creation, distribution, and adoption.



If the intent to change attitudes or behaviors is a factor in the creation, distribution, or adoption of a technology, then that technology inherits a type of intent from Furthermore, it is quite possible that a given interactive technology may fall into more than one category.

Today’s computers function in three basic ways:

As a tool: The computer (or the computer application or system) provides humans with new ability or power, allowing people to do things they could not do before, or to do things more easily.

As media: A role that has become more apparent and important in recent years. As a medium, a computer can convey either symbolic content (e.g., text, data graphs, and icons) or sensory content (e.g., real-time video, simulations, and virtual worlds).

As social actors: Users seem to respond to computers as social actors when computer technologies adopt animate characteristics (physical features, emotions, voice communication), play animate roles (coach, pet, assistant, opponent), or follow social rules or dynamics (greetings, apologies, turn taking).

By viewing a computer technology as a tool, one can then ask how tools can be persuasive devices. In other words, ‘HOW do tools change attitudes or behaviors?” While this question deserves more detailed exploration, one preliminary answer is that tools can be persuasive by (1) reducing barriers and thereby increase the likelihood of a certain behavior (2) increasing self-efficacy by making a certain behavior seem achievable (3) providing information that allows informed decisions (4) shaping a person’s mental model by channeling behavior in a certain pattern-people to avoid unsafe sexual behaviors.

Domains of Persuasive computing




  • safe driving
  • wearing bike helmets
  • substance abuse


  • recycling
  • conservation
  • bicycle commuting

Personal management

  • time management
  • study habits
  • personal finance


Potential Applications of Persuasive Computing

  •  Motivating health behaviors,

  • Promoting safety

  • Promoting eco-friendly behavior

  • Selling products and services


There are still several issues that need further analysis. Human behavior is a relative area and we should try and answer a question like- Does Persuasive computing caters to particular genre of people only?

 Further Reading:

Fogg, B., J., Persuasive Technologies, Communications of the ACM, May 1999/Vol. 42, Pg. 26-29.

Fogg, B., J., Persuasive Computers: Perspectives and Research Directions, CHI 98. APRIL 1998, Pg. 18-23.


page upload: 10th September 2001