By Al Fernandez


Persuasion is not a new concept; as the driving force behind ancient rhetoricians like Cicero to modern TV commercials, communicators have tried to persuade audiences (Neilson, 2003). Like human and TV persuaders, persuasive interactive technologies can bring about positive changes in many domains including health, business, safety, and education (Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, 2003).

What is Captology?

Professor Fogg of Stanford University coined the word in 1996 as a partial acronym from the initial letters of Computers As Persuasive Technology together with the ending -ology for a field of study (World Wide Words, 2000).

Figure 1: Captology describes the area where computing technology and persuasion overlap (Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, 2003).

Captology includes the design, research, and the analysis of interactive computing technologies intentionally created to change people's attitudes or behaviors; technologies include Web sites, PDAs, kiosks, mobile phones, and video games (Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, 2003).

Before an interactive technology can captivate its users, it must have credibility. Although, the web is a highly credible source of information it can also be the least credible source of information. In addition, captology examines Web site credibility and ethical concerns surrounding persuasive messages.

Interactive Impact

Print, radio, and television are pervasive social influencers, bombarding audiences with social and commercial messages. These media are effective modes of persuasion, however computing technology goes beyond the one-way rhetoric and becomes interactive. When audiences become participants, persuasive messages are potentially more compelling than passively receiving messages (Neilson, 2004).

Captology in Action

There are literally hundreds of examples of how computers persuade audiences. Fogg (2003) divides these technologies into two categories macrosuasion and microsuasion.

Macrosuasions are computing products solely created to persuade behaviors and attitudes. Examples listed below:


eGetgoing, a drug and alcohol treatment program, combines proven traditional group treatment methods with the latest Internet technology to bring live, interactive, group treatment online.


Uses technology simulations to prepare students for making key life decisions. Products include Baby Think It Over® (baby simulator) and NICoteen® (cigarette pack and smoking simulator).


Microsuasions are products not specifically designed to persuade users' behaviors, but contain elements of persuasion built in such as dialogue boxes, rewards systems and reminder nags. Below are a couple of examples:


eBay's feedback rating system motivates people to be fair and honest while buyng and selling. Points and star color associated with user profiles indicate levels of feedback.



Microsoft Word's Office Assistant promotes better writing skills by giving users "tips of the day." It allows users to search help database as well as offers assistance with grammar and spelling.

Captology at Work

Captology is a familiar concept at Nokia. Don McArthur of Nokia has experiences that range from mobile phone user interface design to usability testing. While designing and testing user interfaces he balances the needs of various stakeholders. The key stakeholders are consumers, Nokia and network carriers (Verizon, Sprint, Cingular, and etc.). Nokia uses captology to design user interfaces. Creating easy to use interfaces persuades consumers to use their phones more often for longer periods of time. Don's chief concern is maintaining the balance between carriers' request for self-serving features and the integrity of user interface/applications based on design principles and objective research.

Captology could be used in almost any working environment. For instance, San Diego Gas & Electric could use persuasive technologies in its WBT modules on topics such as Ethical Business Practices, Diversity, and How to be Safe in the Work Place. Each module could use various interactive questionnaires and scenarios to persuade employees to be safe, treat fellow employees with respect, and to conduct themselves ethically. After the training is done, it could be followed up with persuasive support tools that help perpetuate the culture of diversity, ethics, and safety.


Fogg, B. J. (2003). Persuasive Technology: Using Computer to Change What We Think and Do. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers.

Nielson, J. (2003). Persuasive Design: New Captology Book. [URL:] Retrieved: January 30, 2004.

Quinion, M. (2000). World Wide Words. [URL:] Retrieved: January 30, 2004.

Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab (2003). Captology: Computers as Persuasive Technologies. [URL:] Retrieved: January 13, 2004.

Author Note


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