Desire Engines: beyond reinforcing behaviour to create habits via @nireyal


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Desire engines, as explained by Nir Eyal  go beyond reinforcing behaviour to creating habits, spurring users to act on their own, without the need for expensive external stimuli like advertising. Think Social media, online games, and email and any habit-forming technologies.

At the heart of a “desire engine” is a powerful cognitive quirk described by B.F. Skinner in the 1950s, called a variable schedule of rewards or the earlier in the Pavlov Dog experiments. Skinner observed that lab mice responded most voraciously to random rewards. The mice would press a lever and sometimes they’d get a small treat, other times a large treat, and other times nothing at all. Unlike the mice that received the same treat every time, the mice that received variable rewards seemed to press the lever compulsively.

We (like it or not), like the mice in Skinner’s box, crave predictability and struggle to find patterns, even when none exist. This is the very topic explored in Dan Ariely excellent Book “Predictably Irrational”  Variability is the brain’s cognitive nemesis and our minds make deduction of cause and effect a priority over other functions like self-control and moderation. 

Nir key points are….

  • The degree to which a company can utilize habit-forming technologies will increasingly decide which products and services succeed or fail.
  • Addictive technology creates “internal triggers” which cue users without the need for marketing, messaging or any other external stimuli.  It becomes a user’s own intrinsic desire.
  • Creating internal triggers comes from mastering the “desire engine” and its four components: trigger, action, variable reward, and commitment.
  • Consumers must understand how addictive technology works to prevent being manipulated while still enjoying the benefits of these innovations.

We have to accept it – we are doomed to be controlled (addicted to) by someone or something…. Our digital footprints will show us the route to this place when we get there just in case we don’t want to accept it !