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  • Writer's pictureVaso

Using Social Visualisation as a Tool in Persuasive Technology to Cause Behavioral Change

First published on for the European Union’s Horizon2020 research and innovation programme -Marie Sklodowska Curie Actions Grant Agreement No.676201 - CHESS - Connected Health Early Stage Researcher Support System.

How many times did I say: “I will start diet next Monday”, “I will exercise three times per week?”, “I will run at least 10 min per day”, “I will eat proper meals at proper times” etc? Life runs fast in the information era, and we think that our routine, which help us so much to cope with this speed, is the only way to live. Stress, sedentariness, irregular and probably unhealthy meals are part of our lives, especially for people like me. People who feel healthy and feel no urgent need to go to the doctor or change lifestyle.

The thing is, that health is not for granted. If we want to remain healthy and have a healthy aging we have to start working on lifestyle change as soon as possible [1]. The last sentences sound cliche, don’t they? Something that most of us know but no one does, or if we start doing it (from next Monday) we will get tired, bored or even be busy and not follow it.

Lifestyle change, or better, behavior change, the change of our habits and routines, is not something easy and definitely does not happen in one day. It is a long process for which we need proper motivation and triggers to succeed it according to Stanford university’s behavior scientist B.J. Fogg [2]. Fogg focuses on computers as persuasive technology to help us change behavior [3]. It may sound controversial. Computers, the main factors of the information era that is partially responsible for our behavior will be used as a tool to help us change towards the behavior we want. But is it that actually weird?

Most people who live in western countries have smart phones. Phones are almost always with us. They can be the “buddy” to keep us motivated and prevent us from behaviors that break our tries towards the lifestyle we want. Applications for behavior change and healthier lifestyle have already been made and tested [4, 5, 6]. An example can be the UbiFit Garden application [4] which functions as a background on the phone. It represents a garden (image 1). The more active a person is, the richer the garden will be. However these applications do not always take in account the social factor. Most people have the need to be in a group, to compare themselves to others or/and the group, to compete, to cooperate or just see where they are placed in comparison to “the average person”. The group that someone chose to belong is not only a motivating factor for following the behavior they want to change, but also help in a psychological way. For example, a person can see that he/she is not the only one with this problem or that he/she is doing better than he/she thought based on the average person.

mobile app of Ubifit garden reference 4
Image 1: UbiFit Garden [4]

Of course, people can argue that if the guidelines of persuasive technology are followed to the letter they can control, rationalise and coerce human behavior [7]. However, it is us, who are going to turn on or off the technological help we use. It is us, who want to change behavior to something “better”. By “better” I do not mean any stereotype but the “better” that each and every one of us wants to be. It can be to become a better parent or to become better with habits related to my health. In other words persuasive technology is here to help us reach this “better” person we want to be.

Today I am in the CHESS program to help designers design technological artifacts that help people who want to change towards a healthier lifestyle. People who have a busy life, no serious health problems but care for their future health. For that, I will work in the fields of social influence, behavior change, social visualisation and connected health.

There is much research on how computers can be used as a tool to help us change our behavior [1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8]. However, there is not much research on how different types of social visualization or more commonly the visualization of individual's data in relation to that of others, can influence that process. More specifically different types of visualization can make us change our opinion towards a subject [8] but how social visualization can influence our habits and behavior?

Someone may think that there is nothing more to opt for than diagrams on a screen, of a computer, cellphone or tablet, but if we think technology with an open mind we will see that we have more options. Like the UbiFit Garden example [4] that I have referred before and not only. Today computers, with the broader meaning of the word, can be everywhere, in other words they are ubiquitous. In our cars, our clothes, house appliances and other daily artifacts. Moreover as the years pass we talk about smart homes, wearable technology, ubiquitous computing and more. As such data visualisation can take more forms than just diagrams on a computer screen.

My plan is to examine social visualisation as a tool in persuasive technology that will cause behavior change through social comparison. My ambition is to find how different types of social visualisation can lead to a healthier behavior change and create a framework-heuristics to help designers on the designing process of these artifacts. I am not willing to find which is the best way to visualise data because my hypothesis is that everyone is special. In other words, one size does not fit all. However, I want to research how we can visualize data in such a way that can help people take control of their habits and succeed to reach the behavior they want to have.


  1. I.Jsselsteijn, W., de Kort, Y., Midden, C., Eggen, B., & van den Hoven, E. (2006). Persuasive technology for human well-being: setting the scene. InPersuasive technology (pp. 1-5). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

  2. Fogg, B. J. (2009, April). A behavior model for persuasive design. InProceedings of the 4th international Conference on Persuasive Technology(p. 40). ACM.

  3. Fogg, B. J. (2002). Persuasive technology: using computers to change what we think and do. Ubiquity, 2002(December), 5.

  4. Consolvo, S., McDonald, D. W., & Landay, J. A. (2009, April). Theory-driven design strategies for technologies that support behavior change in everyday life. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 405-414). ACM.

  5. Abroms, L. C., Padmanabhan, N., Thaweethai, L., & Phillips, T. (2011). iPhone apps for smoking cessation: a content analysis. American journal of preventive medicine, 40(3), 279-285.

  6. Burigat, S., & Chittaro, L. (2014). Designing a mobile persuasive application to encourage reduction of users’ exposure to cell phone RF emissions. InPersuasive Technology (pp. 13-24). Springer International Publishing.

  7. Purpura, S., Schwanda, V., Williams, K., Stubler, W., & Sengers, P. (2011, May). Fit4life: the design of a persuasive technology promoting healthy behavior and ideal weight. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 423-432). ACM.

  8. Stibe, A. (2014). Socially Influencing Systems: Persuading People to Engage with Publicly Displayed Twitter-based Systems. Acta Universitatis Ouluensis.

  9. Pandey, A. V., Manivannan, A., Nov, O., Satterthwaite, M., & Bertini, E. (2014). The persuasive power of data visualization. Visualization and Computer Graphics, IEEE Transactions on, 20(12), 2211-2220.

  10. What is a "Smart Home"? | Smart Home Energy. (n.d.). Retrieved [18.01.2016] from

  11. What is a smartwatch? (n.d.). Retrieved [28.01.2016] from

  12. Takayama, L. (2013, August 18). Ubiquitous Computing. Retrieved January 28, 2016, from

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