Nudges in Sociotechnical Systems

1-Quarter Syllabus

Learning objective: Understand a range of social influence techniques and ways that they have been (or could be) implemented in technical systems to nudge people to change their behavior. We will be focusing on behaviors that people might not choose in the moment, but would be glad, at some, later, more reflective time, that they did.

Prerequisites This course assumes that you have taken a basic HCI or user-oriented design course that covers various types of prototyping, as you will need these skills for the group project but I will not be covering them in class.

Required texts



  1. Introduction: What is social influence? What is persuasive technology?

    HW: Five proposed topics for a design project.


    • Thaler & Sunstein. Nudge. Chapter 1.
    • Cialdini, Influence. Introduction.
    • Fogg, Persuasive Technology. Introduction — Chapter 3.
    • Khaled, R; Barr, P; Noble, J; Biddle, R. (2006). “Investigating Social Software as Persuasive Technology,” Persuasive 2006.
    • Purpura, S; Schwanda, V; Williams, K; Stubler, W; Sengers, P. (2011). “Fit4life: the design of a persuasive technology promoting healthy behavior and ideal weight.” CHI 2011: 423-432

  2. Social software & Individual differences.


    • Read topics from other students on proposed design projects. We will form groups in class.
    • One page describing your experience with persuasion or influence in a technical or non technical system, posted to course website.

    Readings — Social Software

    • Ellison, N; Steinfield, C; & Lampe, C. (2007). &dquo;The benefits of Facebook 'friends:' Social capital and college students' use of online social network sites.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12 (4).
    • Wellman, B & Wortley, S. (1990). “Different strokes from different folks: Community ties and social support. American Journal of Sociology,” 96(3), 558-588.

    Readings — Individual Differences & Tailoring

    • Halko, S. & Kientz, JA. “Personality and Persuasive Technology: An Exploratory Study on Health-Promoting Mobile Applications” Persuasive 2010. Copenhagen, Denmark. 150-161.
    • Hawkins, RP; Kreuter, M; Resnicow, K; Fishbein, M; Dijkstra, A. “Understanding Tailoring in Communicating about Health,” Health Education Research 23(3): 454-466.

  3. Social Information
  4. Social Proof & Social Norms

    Readings — Social Proof

    • Influence, Ch 4.
    • Deutsch & Gerard. 1955. “A study of normative and information social influences upon individual judgment.” Journal of abnormal and social psychology 51: 629-36.
    • Salganik & Watts. Leading the Herd Astray: An Experimental Study of Self-fulfilling Prophecies in an Artificial Cultural Market. Social Psychology Quarterly (2008) 71(4): 338-355
    • (Optional) Bikhchandani, Hirshleifer, Welch. 1998. “Learning from the behavior of others: Conformity, Fads, and Information Cascades.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 12(3): 151-170.

    Readings — Social Norms

    • Cialdini, R. B., & Trost, M. R. (1998). Social influence: Social norms, conformity, and compliance. In D. Gilbert (Ed.), The handbook of social psychology (Vol. 2). New York: Oxford University Press.
    • Kallgren, Carl A., & Reno, Raymond R., & Cialdini, Robert B. (2000). A Focus Theory of Normative Conduct: When Norms Do and Do Not Affect Behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 26.

  5. Social Comparison


    • Festinger, L. (1954). “A Theory of Social Comparison Processes,” Human Relations 7(2).
    • Wood, JV. (1989). Theory and Research Concerning Social Comparisons of Personal Attributes. Psychological Bulletin 106: 2
    • Suls, J; Martin, R; & Wheeler, L. (2002). “Social Comparison: Why, With Whom, and With What Effect?,” Current Directions in Psychological Science.
    • Croson, R & Shang J. 2006. “Field experiments in Charitable Contributions: The Impact of Social Influence on the Voluntary Provision of Public Goods.” UT Dallas Working Paper.
    • Chen, Y; Harper, M, Konstan, J; & Xin Li, S. (2008). “Social Comparisons and Contributions to Online Communities: A Field Experiment on MovieLens.” Persuasive 2007.

  6. Other tactics and overall interaction effects
  7. Reciprocity & Reputation

    Readings - reciprocity

    • Influence, Ch 1.
    • Fogg, BJ, & Nass, C. (1997). How users reciprocate to computers: an experiment that demonstrates behavior change. CHI 1997 (pp. 331 - 332). ACM.

    Readings - reputation

    • Benabou & Tirole. 2006. “Incentives and Prosocial Behavior.” American Economic Review 96(5): 1652-78.
    • Resnick, P; Kuwabara, K; Zeckhauser, R; & Friedman, E. (2000). Reputation systems. Communications of the ACM 43 (12): 45-48.
    • Resnick, P; Zeckhauser, R; Swanson, J; & Lockwood, K. (2006). The value of reputation on eBay: A controlled experiment. Experimental Economics 9(2): 79-101

  8. Social Facilitation


    • Cottrell, NB; Sekerak, GJ; Wack, DL & Rittle, RH. (1968). “Social facilitation of dominant responses by the presence of an audience and the mere presence of others,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 9(3): 245-250.
    • Falk, A & Ichinio, A. (2006). “Clean Evidence on Peer Pressure,” Journal of Labor Economics 24(1): 39-57.
    • Bradner, E & Mark, G. (2001). Social presence with video and application sharing. Conference on Supporting Group Work 2001: 154-161. ACM.

  9. Commitment & Consistency; Targets

    Readings — Commitment & Consistency

    • Influence, ch 3.
    • Sherman, SJ. (1980). &lquo;On the self-erasing nature of errors of prediction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,” 39(2): 211-221.

    Readings — Goals

    • Locke, EA & Latham, GP. (2002). “Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35-year odyssey,” American Psychologist 57(9): 705-717.
    • Consolvo, S; Klasnja, P; McDonald, DW; & Landay, JA. (2009). “Goal-Setting Considerations for Persuasive Technologies that Encourage Physical Activity,” Persuasive 2009.

  10. Self-efficacy


    • Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change. Psychological Review 84(2): 191-215.
    • Lin, JL; Mamykina, L; Lindtner, S; Delajoux, G; & Stub, HB. (2006). “Fish'n'Steps: Encouraging Physical Activity with an Interactive Computer Game,” Ubicomp 2006: 261-278. Springer-Verlag.

  11. Similarity & Liking


    • Influence, Ch 5.
    • Gino, F; Shang, J; & Croson, R. (2009). The impact of information from similar or different advisors on judgment. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 108(2): 287-302.
    • Terry, DJ & Hogg, MA. (1996). Group Norms and the Attitude-Behavior Relationship: A Role for Group Identification. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 22(8): 776-793.a
    • Charness, G; Rigotti, L; Rustichini, A. 2007. “Individual Behavior and Group Membership.” American Economic Review 97(4): 1340-52.
    • Tractinsky, N. (1997). Aesthetics and apparent usability: empirically assessing cultural and methodological issues, CHI 1997: 115-122. ACM.

  12. Affordances & Limits of Technology


    • Persuasive Technology. Ch 4 & skim the parts that seem interesting to you.
    • Nass, C & Moon, Y. (2000). Machines and Mindlessness: Social Responses to Computers. Journal of Social Issues, 81-103.
    • Oinas-Kukkonen H & Harjumaa, M. (2008). A Systematic Framework for Designing and Evaluating Persuasive Systems. Persuasive 2008 (pp. 164-176). Springer-Verlag.
    • Weiksner, GM; Fogg, BJ; & Liu, X. (2008). Six Patterns for Persuasion in Online Social Networks. Persuasive 2008 (pp. 151-163). Springer-Verlag.

  13. Final exam

    The final will be a practical that closely follows the format of the weekly assignments: you will be shown example systems and asked to identify which social influence principles they are applying, as well as asked to suggest features to improve them.