Nudges in Sociotechnical Systems

2-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 contextual inquiry, various types of prototyping, and user studies, 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? How can they work together?

    HW: One page describing your experience with persuasion or influence in a technical or non technical system, posted to course website.


    • Thaler & Sunstein. Nudge. Chapter 1.
    • Cialdini, Influence. Introduction.
    • Fogg, Persuasive Technology. Introduction — Chapter 3.
    • Purpura, S., Schwanda, V., Williams, K., Stubler, W., Sengers, P. "Fit4life: the design of a persuasive technology promoting healthy behavior and ideal weight." In CHI (2011) 423-432.

  2. Social software

    HW: Three proposed topics for a design project; write about a paragraph about each. We will form groups in class.


    • Ellison, N; Steinfield, C; & Lampe, C. (2007). "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.
    • Khaled, R; Barr, P; Noble, J; Biddle, R. (2006). “Investigating Social Software as Persuasive Technology,” Persuasive 2006.
    • Munson, SA; Lauterbach, D; Newman, MW; Resnick, P. (2010). “Happier Together: Integrating a Wellness Application Into a Social Network Site,” Persuasive 2010.

  3. 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.
    • Noar, SM; Bernac CN; Harris MS. (2007). “Does Tailoring Matter Meta-Analytics Review of Tailored Print Health Behavior Change Interventions.” Psychological Bulletin 133(4): 673-693.

  4. Social Information
  5. Social Proof

    HW: A brief review of existing products and literature relevant to your group's design problem, posted to the course website.


    • 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.

  6. Social Norms


    • Cialdini, RB, & Trost, MR. (1998). Social influence: Social norms, conformity, and compliance. In D. Gilbert (Ed.), The handbook of social psychology (Vol. 2). New York: Oxford University Press.
    • Schultz, PW, Nolan, JM, Cialdini, RB, Goldstein, NJ, & Griskevicius, V. (2007). “The Constructive, Destructive, and Reconstructive Power of Social Norms.” Psychological Science 18(5): 429-434.
    • Kallgren, CA, & 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.

  7. 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. (2007). “Social Comparisons and Contributions to Online Communities: A Field Experiment on MovieLens.” Persuasive 2007.

  8. Other tactics and overall interaction effects
  9. 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

  10. Social Facilitation

    HW: Your group should be making progress on your design. You should have a number of concepts and be prepared to present them in class, as wireframes, storyboards, or some combination.


    • 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.

  11. Commitment & Consistency; Targets

    Readings — Commitment & Consistency

    • Influence, ch 3.
    • Sherman, SJ. (1980). “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.

  12. Group Presentations

    Your group will present a recap of your problem space and design process, your current prototype, and plans to evaluate it with users. Be sure to say what your major issues/questions are for this evaluation.

    Final / Mid-Course Exam

    The exam will consist of a multiple section as well as some practical, open-ended questions for which 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.

    Quarter 2
  13. Field Experiments and User Studies

    HW: Individually, find a journal article or paper from conference proceedings that presents the results of a field experiment or field deployment of a system (it need not be persuasive). Write a 1-2 page critique of the deployment and paper and post it to the course website. We will discuss the examples and common issues with field deployments and user studies in class.

  14. 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.

  15. Team consultations
  16. HW: Your group should have a detailed plan for your prototype and how you will evaluate it with users. We will use class time for team consultations with the instructor; you should use the remainder of the time as group time.

    N.b.: at this point in the quarter, the readings get spaced a bit more sparsely. You should use this additional time for your project or you will be struggling at the end of the quarter.

  17. 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.

  18. Advice and Stories
  19. Advice


    • Bonaccio, S & Dalal, R. (2006). “Advice Taking and Decision-Making: An Integrative Literature Review, and Implications for the Organizational Sciences,” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 101:127-51.
    • Gino, F. & Schweitzer, M. (2008). “Blinded by anger or feeling the love: How emotions influence advice taking,” Journal of Applied Psychology 93(5), 1165-1173.
    • Swearingen, K & Sinha, R. (2002). “Interaction Design for Recommender Systems” DIS 2002.

  20. Stories


    • Hinyard, LJ & Kreuter, MW. (2007). “Using Narrative Communication as a Tool for Health Behavior Change: A Conceptual, Theoretical, and Empirical Overview,” Health Education & Behavior 34(5): 777-792.
    • Grimes, A, Bednar, M, Bolter, JD & Grinter, R. E. (2008). “EatWell: Sharing Nutrition-Related Memories in a Low-Income Community,” CSCW: 87-96. ACM.

  21. What I say (write?) & Helping


    • Pennebaker, JW. (2000). “Telling Stories: The Health Benefits of Narrative. Literature and Medicine,” 19(1): 3-18.
    • Riessman, F. (1990). “Restructuring Help: A Human Services Paradigm for the 1990s,” American Journal of Community Psychology, 18(2): 221-230.
    • Schwartz, CE, & Sendor, M. (1999). “Helping others helps oneself: response shift effects in peer support,” Social Science & Medicine 48: 1563-1575.

  22. 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.

  23. Where to go from here and Team Presentations

    Where to go from here. I will assemble a panel of local entrepreneurs, PhD students and/or faculty members, and members of the entrepreneurship community at UW to discuss where you might go next with your projects (if you are so inclined!). If possible, they will stick around for your presentations to give feedback.

    Team Presentations & Critiques. Your group will have 20 minutes to present your system, your user study, and changes you have made / would make to your system based on those results. In addition to saying why you like your design, you should be prepared to critique your design from the perspective of what it would be like to live with it (consider Purpura et al!).

    You will each be assigned another group's project which you will be expected expected to thoughtfully critique, both in a 1-2 page write-up and for a few minutes following their presentation.

  24. Team presentations (continued)


  25. Final exam