Theory-driven design strategies for technologies that support behavior change in everyday life

Consolvo, S., McDonald, D. W., and Landay, J. A. Theory-driven design strategies for technologies that support behavior change in everyday life. In CHI ’09: Proceedings of the 27th international conference on Human factors in computing systems (New York, NY, USA, 2009), ACM, pp. 405–414. [PDF]


This paper describes psychological theories that can help and inform the design of persuasive technologies. The starting assumption of the authors is that in the design of persuasive technology a critical design component is often ignored: namely, that the proposed technologies often must effectively integrate into the individual’s everyday life and that they impact the individual’s social world.

According to the authors, the design of persuasive technologies should draw goal-setting theory [Locke and Latham, 2002], which describes how individuals respond to different types of goals and thus which tend to motivate well. For example, the individual must have decided that the goal is important to her and that it is easy to gauge her progress and know when she has met the goal. Feedback and incentives should bve provided at intermediary steps and not only when she finally meet the goal.

The Transtheoretical Model [Prochaska et al., 1992] describes the stages through which an individual progresses to intentionally modify addictive or other problematic behaviors: precontemplation, no intention to change in the foreseable future; contemplation, seriously considering changing; preparation, intends to take action in the next month; action, has performed the desired behavior consistently for less than six months; and maintenance, where the desired behavior has been performed for more than six months.

The theory of Presentation of Self in Everyday Life [Gofman, 1959] describes how individuals attempt to managethe impressions they want others to have of them. The performance encompasses all the activity of an individual which occurs during a period marked by his continuous presencebefore a particular set of observers. A given performance has two regions: front and backstage. Other important concepts include dramatic realization (when the individual draws attention to facts that may go unnoticed), misrepresentation (individuals may bebe incented to misrepresent facts), and secret consmption (acted actions that are incompatible with ideal standards).

According to the authors, technology to encourage lifestyle behavior change must support fundamental impression management needs. Technology may also need to enable the individual to misrepresent something about her behavior perhaps to support secret consumption.

The Cognitive Dissonance theory [Festinger, 1957] explains what happens when an individual realizes that her attitudes and behaviors are inconsistent. When that happens the individual experience discomfort, or dissonance. Therefore, the individual will be motivated to reduce or eliminate the dissonance. The more important the beliefs are to the individual, the more likely she will try to reduce the dissonance.

Therefore, the author conclude that technology should hep the individual remain focused on her commitment to change and her relevant pattern of behavior. The awareness provided by the technology should be persistently available and easy to access.

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