What a difference a little fun can make!

Bottles bank arcade

People need changing behavior for many reasons, i.e. to get a healthier lifestyle or make the world a better place and securing the future of our planet by acting in more sustainable and environmental-friendlier ways. Changes can be small and incremental but yet so important in the long run. Now when the end of the year is approaching it’s a good time to think of behavioral changes and maybe New Year’s resolutions. But honestly, how many of all resolutions involving giving up doing this or starting doing that, i.e. any sort of behavioral change, succeed and result in sustained changes? I guess that aren’t too many, but why do people generally have such a hard time changing behavior? Is it because of lacking motivation or not being able to change? I don’t think so. I’ll share some insights that hopefully can increase the chance of being successful next time a behavior is about to be changed.

Let’s start by thinking of what a behavior is. Behaviors are complex things and within behavioral science there’re several models of behaviors of different kinds, how they work and what’s influencing them. There’re for instance occasional behaviors that are intentional and less frequent and there’re habits, which are automatic responses to specific cues having the function to fulfill specific goals. Habits are the kind of behavior we most commonly want to break or establish new of, and they’re also the ones the trickiest to change because of their autonomous nature. Behaviors exist in contexts in relation to things and events; when interacting with something or anything happens in the context we act in certain ways as reactions to it. This explains why how things and experiences are designed can change people’s behavior by interventions that enlighten, spur, steer or force to adopt a new behavior. Putting it simple, to change a behavior a person must be motivated and have the ability to change. But that’s not enough; it’s also to be triggers that can make the change happen. The triggers have to suit the current behavior and converge with peoples’ motivations and abilities. So interventions are about redesigning the triggers, e.g. cues or features that can make people adopt the “right behavior”. As you probably understand, to design the right triggers peoples’ concerns and motivations have to be known and different intervention strategies are suitable for different people, behaviors and contexts.

Like Donald Norman and many other renowned design researchers has said, things evoking emotions or affective engagement is generally more cared for and more meaningful to people. Design for emotional engagement and experience can create good relationships to products and influence people to act in certain ways. So engaging people emotionally and motivating through enjoyment and affection is perhaps one of the most promising strategies to achieve behavioral change. These videos from the Fun Theory are some interesting examples of that.

Volkswagen sponsored a couple of years ago this initiative and a competition called the Fun Theory (Rolighetsteorin). The basic idea of the Fun Theory is that something as simple as fun is the easiest way of changing people’s behavior to the better. The persons in the first video standing at the bottom are motivated to get up, either by the escalator or the stairs, and they’re capable to use any of the two available means. What makes so many more choose the staircase before the escalator is the funny trigger, the piano keys. This works for sure, but it doesn’t show the entire truth. The novelty effect is one of the key factors in these examples. But over time people will get used to the fun and not experience the same enthusiasm anymore. Then it’s very likely to fall back into the old “bad behavior” again. Thus, the Fun Theory is effective for introducing a behavioral change, but in order to sustain it deep understanding of current barriers and peoples’ motivations and attitudes is needed to design triggers that are effective also in the long run. So by knowing why people behave as they do and which their (or your own) barriers and motivations for changing are, it’s possible find the right intervention strategies and create experiences and emotional affection, preferably including a bit of fun, which has big potential to successfully change the behavior to the better!

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