19 July 2011

Design and behaviourism: a brief review

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Dan Lockton is publishing extracts from his Brunel University Ph.D thesis ‘Design with Intent: A design pattern toolkit for environmental & social behaviour change’ as blog posts over the next few weeks.

The first post deals with the importance of behaviourism in design for behavioural change, summarised in these eight bullets:

  • Behaviourism is no longer mainstream psychology, but many of the principles have potential application in design for behaviour change
  • There is a recognition that the environment shapes our behaviour both before and after we take actions—a useful insight for designing interventions
  • There is also a recognition that behaviour change does not necessarily happen in a single step, but as part of an ongoing cycle of shaping
  • Where cognition cannot be understood or examined, modelling users in terms of stimuli and responses may still offer valuable insights
  • Positive and negative reinforcement, and positive and negative punishment can all be implemented via designed features, and often underlie designed interventions without being explicitly named as such
  • Schedules of reinforcement can be varied (e.g. made unpredictable) to drive continued behaviour
  • Design could either exploit or help people avoid ‘social traps’ where both reinforcement and punishment exist, or reinforcement is currently misaligned with the behaviour, converting them into ‘trade-offs’ which more closely match the intended behavioural choices
  • Considering means and ends may provide a useful perspective on design for behaviour change. The end from the user’s perspective effectively becomes the means by which the designer’s end might be influenced

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