Let’s Get Chemical: How to Gamify Behavior and Influence

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Leading neuroscientist Andrea Kuszewski explains why unlocking the hearts (and minds) of your users isn’t just an art – it’s a science.

By Clark Buckner (Content Marketer & New Media Strategist, TechnologyAdvice.com)

Andrea Kuszewski is a neuroscientist, therapist, artist and science writer. She refers to herself as a “knowledge fanatic,” and any of her Twitter followers would tell you the title fits. Her Twitter feed is a constant stream of research studies and trending issues.

Andrea’s eclectic background also makes her the perfect person to speak on behavior and influence. It turns out you do in fact catch more bees with honey, and she has the science to prove it.

Reward in Action

The best way to encourage a certain behavior is to make that action intrinsically valuable to someone. In other words, taking the action is the reward itself. More frequently, we use extrinsic motivators, such as a traditional reward system, like point accumulation. However, intrinsically motivating behaviors provide fulfillment and stronger position reinforcement.

To create an intrinsically rewarding experience, you first have to study your audience, Andre says. The general assumption with persuasion is, “use emotional tactics,” make it relevant to them on a deep personal level. It’s since been proven that this no longer holds up a hard and fast rule.

Ideology Meets Neurology

People with different ideologies respond differently on a neurological level. Those who identify themselves as conservative do react more to emotionally based approaches while self-identified liberals respond better to fact-based approaches. If you’re trying to reach a mixed audience, consider how you can appeal to both ideologies.

This is why research is paramount.

In the context of creating a gamified solution, this means putting a lot of time into researching your target audience and crafting your solution accordingly. Find a way to make the desired behavior satisfying to them.

Research, Research… and Research Again

But this still doesn’t mean you’ll be successful right off the bat, according to Andrea. A good solution takes good science, and good science is an ongoing process. Putting the time in on the front end increases your chances of creating a more compelling solution, though it doesn’t guarantee it. It will continue to be a valuable resource as you tweak and perfect.

Dispelling the Myths

It’s also important to understand the neuroscience, and separate the misconceptions from the fact. In the past, it was believed that dopamine (a.k.a the brain’s “happiness” chemical), was responsible for feelings of elation and was released as pleasurable actions we’re taken. Now, Andrea says, we have a better grasp of exactly what the chemical does.

Dopamine’s real work is about anticipation. This was discovered through studying soldiers with PTSD, who had elevated levels of dopamine before suffering an anxiety attack. That’s not to say dopamine is solely a negative chemical; it also helps anticipate reward, which is why it was initially understood as the happiness chemical.

Your solution, regardless of your audience and rhetoric, should have a component that entices the audience to come back again and again, building a stronger association each time.

What are your successful strategies for boosting your users’ happiness?


About the guest blogger: Clark Buckner is a Content Marketer & New Media Strategist podcasting about technology and entrepreneurship at TechnologyAdvice.com. He enjoys the tech conference scene and discovering innovative ways to create new opportunities from emerging technologies. Tweet Clark a hello or follow him on Google +!