Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do

Chapter 5: Computers as Persuasive Social Actors

Overview

Shortly after midnight, a resident of a small town in southern California called the police to report hearing a man inside a house nearby screaming I m going to kill you! I m going to kill you! Officers arrived on the scene and ordered the screaming man to come out of the house. The man stepped outside, wearing shorts and a Polo shirt. The officers found no victim inside the house. The man had been yelling at his computer. [1 ]

No studies have shown exactly how computing products trigger social responses in humans, but as the opening anecdote demonstrates, at times people do respond to computers as though they were living beings. The most likely explanation is that social responses to certain types of computing systems are automatic and natural; human beings are hardwired to respond to cues in the environment, especially to things that seem alive in some way. [2 ]At some level we can t control these social responses; they are instinctive rather than rational. When people perceive social presence, they naturally respond in social ways feeling empathy or anger, or following social rules such as taking turns. Social cues from computing products are important to understand because they trigger such automatic responses in people.

This chapter will explore the role of computing products as persuasive social actors the third corner in the functional triad (Figure 5.1). These products persuade by giving a variety of social cues that elicit social responses from their human users.


Figure 5.1: Computers as social...

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