Persuasive Technology Lab @ Stanford University

[This page needs some serious updating. I think I will have time over winter break.]

I direct research and design at Stanford University's Persuasive Technology Lab. We create insight into how computing products--from websites to mobile phone apps--can be designed to change people's behaviors. I started investigating computers and persuasion in 1993 and later realized this topic had no name, so I gave it one: captology. Today, I don’t use the word captology very much. Instead, my lab’s focus is on what we call “behavior design.”

My lab's major projects include tech for creating health habits, mobile persuasion, physical activity. We also create conferences on topics we think important. See, for example, Mobile Health. Our previous lab projects have included online video to persuade peopleonline credibility, and more.

My lab’s current focus is what we call “changing together.” We are exploring how individuals can achieve lasting change by tapping into the power of social. This topics is bigger, more complicated, and more important than most people think. That’s why we are taking it on. This is a hard puzzle with important implications.

My lab is located at Stanford's Center for the Study of Language and Information and affiliated with Stanford’s H-STAR. My lab team includes 10 people from diverse backgrounds. We meet every Thursday evening.

My current appointment is as a consulting faculty in Stanford’s Graduate School of Education. I teach students from all over campus, mostly graduate students, though I welcome smart and motivated undergrads too.


Below you’ll find some bits and pieces about previous work in my lab. It’s not exhaustive.

Persuading via Mobile Phones
I’ve long been interested in how mobile phones can be platforms for persuasion. Early in 2007 our lab organized the first Mobile Persuasion conference. We sold out the event. We then put together a book entitled Mobile Persuasion: 20 Perspectives on the Future of Behavior Change. This book has short, insightful chapters from over 20 authors. Extending our work on mobile persuasion, my lab also created and hosted an event called “Texting 4 Health.” Again, we created an edited volume: Texting 4 Health: A Simple, Powerful Way to Change Lives. This book brings together the best ideas about texting and health in 15 easy-to-read chapters.

Persuasion in Social Networks
In my Stanford lab we’re also studying the psychology of Facebook -- what makes it compelling, what persuades people to install apps, and what motivates them to continue using the service. As part of this project in Fall 2007 I created a course about Facebook apps (taught with Dave McClure).

In 2008 and 2009, I created two other new classes related to social networks: “Psychology of Facebook” and “Facebook for Parents.” These classes are quite different, but the underlying theme is the same: how social networks like Facebook can be platforms for persuasion. Because of social media, the old methods of persuading people are breaking. The new methods depend on social distribution and five other factors I describe in this paper about Mass Interpersonal Persuasion.

My Book on Persuasive Technology
My book is the most efficient way to learn more about captology. The title is Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do. The easiest way to get this book is buy it on Amazon (that’s what I do when I need new copies). I'm pleased that experts in psychology, design, and human-computer interaction have praised the book, saying it is "powerful," "important," and a "must read." For more information, see my old book website.

Persuading with Web Video
The third important tech channel for persuasion is web video. To create insight on this topic, I organized a Stanford conference to bring experts together. I later created a new course called “Persuasive Online Video,” which I taught in Spring of 2009 with Enrique Allen.

In my industry work and at Stanford, I’ve found that online video has remarkable power to change people’s beliefs and behaviors. The frustrating part is that the tools for web video -- creating, distributing, and measuring -- are still emerging. You can expect video to become even more important in persuasion once we have better tools for targeted distribution, A/B testing, and real-time metrics.

Inventing Peace
Another focus in my lab is what we call "peace innovation." We're investigating how technology can help change attitudes and behaviors in ways that bring about global harmony. We know this is an idealistic project, and we may fail. But given the state of the world, choosing not to pursue this line of research would be irrational. I created a Stanford course on Peace Innovation, and I was pleased with how the students performed. We’ve starting solving a big piece of the puzzle: creating simple and reliable methods to measure peace-related outcomes.

Computer Science Department Previously, I taught most of my classes at Stanford as a member of the consulting faculty in Computer Science. My courses always focused on some new aspect of persuasive technology.