Overview of Computerized Persuasion

The author concedes that there is not a commonly accepted definition of persuasion, and restates his position: that persuasion ins "an attempt to change attitudes and/or behaviors."

He differentiates this from the concept of coercion (the use of force to compel behavior) and deception (the use of false information to elicit a reaction), in that these tactics focus solely on short-term behavior and do not seek to effect a change in attitude.

(EN: My own take on persuasion differs somewhat: that persuasion addresses beliefs in order to influence behavior, which differs from the author's perspective in two specific ways: that persuasion addresses beliefs rather than changes attitudes, and that persuasion can cause a change in behavior without any effect on belief or attitude. I think the two definitions are compatible, if slightly dissimilar, and will attempt to keep an open mind, though I suspect there will be instances in which my definition will cause a bias in my interpretation of the author's theories.)

Human-Computer Relationship

The author's focus is on the element of persuasion in human-computer interactions. HE indicates that there are instances in which a human interacts with a computer, and others in which a human interacts through a computer.

(EN: I find this distinction a bit odd, but worth exploring. I am clear on the second sense of interaction - that a human uses a computer to interact with other humans - but the first makes no sense to me. A person who is interacting "with" a computer is either taking actions that will have an impact on other people, hence is the same as the second sense, or is interacting with information or software that was created by another human to interact with the user. So the computer is merely a channel through which human beings interact with one another, and the distinction merely whether the activity in question is an action that elicits a response from another person, or one which is itself a response to an action taken by another person. The "inter" in "interaction" also suggests that it is a volley of actions and reactions between two parties, even if one of the parties is represented by a software proxy.)

The author also narrows the focus of his study to human-computer interaction rather than computer-mediated communication. Specifically, this eliminates interaction in the sense of "through" and focuses the investigation on instances where one of the human actors is replaced by a computerized proxy that interacts on his behalf, based on pre-programmed logic.

(EN: it also considers the computerized proxy to be the equivalent of a human, which may be misleading, is that computers do not think or have objectives in an interaction, but merely follow the instructions of those who have developed the software that guides the interaction. Nevertheless, I will accept the notion and make no further remark.)

Sidebar: History of Persuasion

(EN: This was included in a later chapter, but makes more sense in the context of the present one, so I've moved it.)

The Greeks, particularly Aristotle, gave consideration to persuasion in the form of rhetoric, particularly in public speech that was used to convince or motivate others, which was necessary to the function of a democratic society.

When the practice of psychology arose in the late 19th century, its concern with human behavior led to the examination of the causes of behavior and the discovery of ways in which it could be altered.

Later, when mass media arose, marketers and advertisers leveraged the findings of rhetoric and psychology to craft marketing messages - in effect, using verbal persuasion to change behavior with the goal of selling products.

While persuasion is an old practice, our understanding of it remains limited and highly theoretical. None of these fields is an exact science, or maps out a completely reliable method of persuasion that is universally successful, so there are a number of competing theories and approaches to the topic.

Persuasion Is Based on Intentions

Another critical distinction is that the author considers "persuasion" is defined by the attempt, not by whether that attempt had any impact, and more so, it is assessed by the intention that drives the attempt rather than any unintentional side effect. Neither does it pertain to any behaviors that can be classified as opportunity costs - for example, if a person communicates via e-mail, the fact that buy fewer stamps may be a consequence which could reasonably be assumed to have a causal relationship, but this was likely not the intention of using e-mail.

The author also focuses on the direct or "endogenous" intent of the designers of a computer product, rather than the factors that motivate the user of the product. That is to say that people will use computers to achieve goals of their own, and these are not considered persuasion (the existence of a calorie calculator on the web may be used by a person who wants to monitor their diet, but it did not necessarily cause the person to want to do so - they came with pre-existing motivation).

(EN: This may give rise to chicken-and-egg arguments in practice - whether the tool created the desire or the desire caused the user to seek the tool - but the difference is theoretical significant.)

Levels of Persuasion: Macro and Micro

The author distinguishes two levels of persuasion.

The "macro" level of persuasion describes the high-level objective of a persuader to effect a change in the behavior of his subject. The "micro" level is a less direct approach that seeks to make progress toward the macro-level goal.

Brand marketing is an example of the two levels of persuasion: the marketer seeks to effect a small improvement in the subject's attitude toward the brand with each exposure that will, over time, achieve the larger goal of convincing the subject to buy the product.

In some instances, micro-level initiatives are used in a somewhat disorganized and random manner; in others, they are carefully orchestrated through a sequence of planned events that lead toward an overall goal. For example, consider the sequence of events in a video game that gives the user small rewards as they progress toward the overall goal of completing the entire game.