Book Summary: Hook

The book Hooked was written by Nir Eyal to illustrate how we may utilize a deep grasp of psychology to encourage consumers to use our products and services again.

So, let's start with a moral quandary: is it OK to gain money by inducing addictive behaviors in others?

This one has me on the fence. Is it ethical to offer items and services using techniques that have been proved to cause addiction?

The capitalist part of me tells me that if getting people addicted to my products and services equals greater money, it's time to start the addiction engine and rev it up.

Suppose even China believes that capitalism is the way to go. In that case, the communist half of me tells me that I should simply listen to the capitalist side of my brain.

After all, "Under capitalism, man exploits man. It's the polar opposite under communism." as John Kenneth Galbraith memorably put it.

So now everything's decided, and I'm fine with it. Let's speak about the book now that it's out of the way.

Let's get hooked

Even though we'll only be looking at one aspect of their approach, it's helpful to put that notion into perspective with the rest of it.

The model is straightforward yet effective, and it goes like this:

Step #1: A behavior is triggered.

Receive notification on the phone.

The trigger is an external urge to do the action, such as the reminders your calendar sends you to ensure you arrive on time for a meeting.

If you repeat this loop enough times, the trigger will eventually become internal. You won't need an external prompt to complete the action.

This is something that Facebook excels at. You would only log in to the service if you were sent a notice when you originally signed up.

If you were tagged in a photo, you'd get a notification. If you were out late last night drinking with your buddies, your first response was undoubtedly horror at what your friend posted for all to see. This causes you to instantly log in to your account to see the damage.

However, you will eventually find yourself checking Facebook throughout the day without the need for alerts. You've been hooked.

Step #2: An action is performed.

A girl is changing her profile picture on social media.

Following the trigger, you must do some sort of action. To continue with the previous example, you go into your account and look at the photo.

You'll want to ensure that the individual doing the activity has the required motivation and capacity to execute it at the beginning stages of developing the habit.

We could spend hours discussing this area alone, particularly the work of BJ Fogg. He is a Stanford University researcher (where the founders of Instagram took his class on human behavior). Because influencing motivation is difficult, you'll want to make sure that the activity is simple.

In this situation, simply viewing a picture of yourself on Facebook is simple for anybody who knows how to operate a computer.

Step #3: A variable reward is given for the action.

A man receiving a trophy and being rewarded.

Now that you've signed in to your account and examined the photo (thank God your friend didn't post anything too embarrassing, and please God I hope he deleted them from his phone), it's time to move on to the habit loop's "varying reward" area.

Anyone who has a pet understands that praising good behavior usually leads to more of the same.

However, no rewards have been found to deter our dog from using our main floor carpet as a personal potty every time we leave the house. But that isn't the point...the point is that how you provide that prize is really important.

B.F. Skinner, a psychologist, conducted some now-famous studies involving "schedules of reinforcement."

He discovered that a "variable schedule of reinforcement" was far more effective than a "fixed-ratio schedule of reinforcement" in eliciting an action.

In other words, not knowing when the reward will arrive or how large it would increase the incentive to complete the task. These are referred to as "variable rewards" by the book's writers.

(A short side note: he did his tests on rats, but this method also works on humans, demonstrating that humans aren't much smarter than rodents.)

The reward in the Facebook case was seeing what was in the photo. You didn't know what was in the image until you checked in. Thus it was a "variable reward."

You knew you'd get a reward for logging in (seeing a photo), but you had no idea what it was (the variability). You probably wouldn't have logged in if Facebook had allowed you to view the photo without logging in.

So, while it may appear that they are making a good gesture by informing you that there is a photo of you on their site, what they are really doing is training you to login to their service over and over.

Step 4: An investment is made to create a commitment to the product.

A boy taking a lot of coins.

So far, all we've had is essentially a retelling of B.F. Skinner's Operant Conditioning Model.

However, the authors add a new phase to their model: the "investment" phase.

The concept is straightforward. The more time and effort people put into a product or service, the higher its value.

This is known as rationalization, and three psychological theories can assist us in reaching this condition.

The first is known as the "Ikea Effect." Dan Ariely and his friends, who are all behavior psychologists, conducted research in 2011 that looked at the impact of labor on how individuals value items.

Their conclusion was that consumers place a higher value on things that they developed themselves.

Test respondents, for example, regarded their sloppy and amateur copies of folded origami as valuable as skilled paper folders. These folks are known as origamists.

Peter Engel, who is described on Wikipedia as an "influential origami artist and theorist," is one of the world's foremost specialists. Every day you learn something new.

The second is "Commitment and Consistency," which was popularized by Robert Cialdini's book, Influence.

Much research in this field has found that we want to maintain consistency with our previous behaviors. Making a little commitment today increases the likelihood of making a greater commitment tomorrow.

The third is the notion that we will do whatever we can to prevent cognitive dissonance. For example, it may be difficult to believe, but you probably disliked alcohol the first time you tried it.

We learned to enjoy it, according to Eyal. Why? It was difficult to reconcile that we didn't like it with the reality that so many other people couldn't get enough of it. As a result, we adjust our expectations when our experience and the outside world fail to fulfill our expectations.

When you combine all three of these psychological factors, you get rationalization, a highly potent force.

An example of rationalization

A woman is sitting and thinking very hard.

Returning to the Facebook example, let's alter the circumstance.

My father-in-law, who I will not identify because I am afraid for my safety, enjoys playing poker on Facebook. Of course, he "never goes on that thing," which I am well aware is a harmless little lie. My mother-in-law can't take it, which is why I find it funny to greet him every time I see him with, "Are you winning or losing?"

Anyway, every now and then, I'll get a Facebook notification inviting me to join him in the game. Of fact, he has no desire to play with me; he only wants to increase his virtual cash by inviting his Facebook pals.

I haven't succumbed to the temptation yet, but Facebook will come out on top, and I'll be checking out that game.

In 2010, Jesse Schell, a well-known game designer and professor at Carnegie Mellon University, talked at an industry conference on the concept of rationalization and how it made Facebook game designers millions of dollars.

I'm going to put myself and my father-in-law into his narrative as he travels through the thinking process of this justification.

So, according to Jesse Schell, here's what'll be going on in my mind when I eventually give in and turn off the game:

And now I'm playing the game, which is fun because it's with my actual pals (and my father-in-law).

However, then: My father-in-law is superior to me.

What can I do about it? So, like my father-in-law, I can either play for a long time or simply throw $20 in. Ah-hah!

It's even better if the $20 I put in supports what I already know to be true: that I am superior to my father-in-law, which I can then check.

Then I put that together with the psychological concept of rationalization:

I begin to feel that everything I devote attention to must be valuable. Why? Because I put effort into it.

As a result, it must be worth my $20 because look at how much time I put on it. And now that I've put down $20, it must be valuable since only a fool would put down $20 if it wasn't.

That's the psychology behind why social casino games have grown into a $2.7 billion business (and will continue to do so) in 2014 and are anticipated to reach a $4.4 billion industry this year.

What's next

Most of you will not use this data to develop the next big social casino game or social network. However, if you apply your creativity, there are various ways this might assist you in promoting what you're presently offering.

I'll leave the specifics to you, but repeatedly putting your customers/prospects through the ringer of triggers, actions, varying incentives, and investment will certainly result in greater outcomes.

It's all uphill from here.

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