The role of individual differences in persuasive technology is an exciting research area, one in which I believe our community is making — or about to make — quite a bit of progress. Since it’s getting a lot of attention, I had not included it my review of challenges.
On reflection, though, I believe that our progress here will shortly present us with a substantial new challenge: what do we do when an individual’s preferences are different from what actually works for that individual?
From all sorts of research, we know that people are not very good at predicting what features they actually want over the long term or what will work for them. It’s why Halko and Kientz’s work on personality differences and individuals’ receptiveness to different proposed persuasive systems is great, but the actual efficacy needs to be tested in the field. It’s why people who viewed prototypes of our GoalPost app loved trophies and medals in theory, but found them unmotivating — or even demotivating — in actual use.
This probably isn’t a problem when designers use detected or reported personality differences to make small adjustments to messages within an application. It does, however, present a dilemma if people choose applications with bundles of features that are appealing to them but that do not actually help them achieve their goals, or that help somewhat but not as nearly well as a different bundle of features would. Rosa Ariaga brought this issue to mind at Pervasive Health by asking “why don’t we just create a completely customizable app, and let people choose the features that will motivate them?” My reaction was that, oh, gosh, it seems like many would pick the wrong features and, rather than adapting, just get more discouraged.
Thus, it seems like there are additional questions that should be part of the agenda for people working on individual differences and persuasive systems:
- What personality (and other) attributes predict different individual preferences for adopting persuasive systems, and what attributes predict individual differences in efficacy of persuasive systems?
- What can, or for that matter, should designers of systems do when people are inclined to pick systems that are not actually helpful for them while neglecting systems that would help?
When do people pick systems that are well matched for their actual needs, and when do they pick systems that are poorly matched?