Collecting cognitive science patterns that are at play on social media

As @tristanh often explains very well: Our minds are being hacked by social media!

This topic is for collecting concepts of cognitive science that are used to hook us

The corporations that develop our popular social media platforms have an army of people that help in their product design, whose purpose is to keep us online for the longest of times, and to have us consume content and services for their profit. Morality and ethics are often just afterthoughts in this process, and as a result people suffer the harms of technology that come with these products.

If we want to improve technology, define Humane Tech best-practices and design patterns, we have to understand the psychological and cognitive science tricks that are being played on us.

This topic is for collecting these tricks, and I encourage anyone that has expertise with these topics to contribute. I am a tech guy and not too experienced with this myself, have much to learn :slight_smile:

I am calling on the experience of my fellow community members with expertise in this, like: @steelcowboy, @SteveSanFranisco, @khkey, @bulbul, @joseadna, @christianne, @klukoff, @rebeccaf, @Richard, @cjamcmahon, @Drabiv, @Levimust, and many other I have missed.

If there is enough interest I can create a dedicated discussion group, similar to Campaigners and subproject to have section of our future Community website (work in progress) dedicated to Cognitive science + Technology topics. And follow up to How can researchers unite?

I will kick off with an interesting article I found describing the concept of: Social Proof

Social Proof, or Informational social influence is a psychological and social phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behaviour in a given situation.

This ‘herd instinct’ dictates the fact that individuals feel they are behaving correctly when they act the same as others.

Four aspects are at play in this phenomenon:

  1. Uncertainty - When uncertain you refer to others for guidance
  2. Similarity - You mirror yourself to people like you, and copy their behavior
  3. Expertise - You perceive others as more experienced than you
  4. Number - You follow the example of others, don’t want to stand out

It is used online as follows (taken from the article):

Ecommerce websites show you number of times an item has been ordered to drive more orders. Similarly, social networks and content websites show you number of shares and views of posts to drive more shares.

The concept is very powerful and abused by Goebbels before WWII to promote the idea of “Total war?” (see article).

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The Vortex: Why Users Feel Trapped in Their Devices

Summary: Many users report anxiety and lack of control over the amount of time they spend online. We call this feeling “the Vortex.”

“The Vortex is a user-behavior pattern that begins with a single intentional interaction followed by a series of unplanned interactions. This unplanned chain of interactions creates a sense of being “pulled” deeper into the digital space, making the user feel out of control.” (by Kate Moran and Kim Flaherty)

The phenomenon we describe here has a significant relationship to the concept commonly referred to as “digital addiction.”

The whole site where this came from is interesting for further study: The Nielsen Norman Group - World Leaders in Research-Based User Experience, see for instance their category on Persuasive Design.

Persuasion Psychology Principles

Persuasion Psychology

In her article Nancy Christinovich summarizes a number of persuasion principles:

  • Reciprocation
  • Commitment and consistency
  • Social proof
  • ‘Liking’
  • Authority

To a certain extent these princples are used by anoyne that wants to ‘market’ a concept or product, but in social media these techniques are often used to their maximum potential - in ‘evil’ ways - in order to ‘hack your brain’ and keep you online.

There are good and bad uses for these techniques, and it is up to the morals and ethics of the people who apply them, to get that right. The author recognizes this in her conclusion:

Final Thoughts

As modern marketers with technology at our fingertips, we have a duty to communicate responsibly and do the right thing by the people who constitute our audience. No honest social media strategist would condone using psychology principles to manipulate the consumer, but sadly, many companies still find a way to trick people for their own gain.

It’s a rotten thing to do, not to mention a risky move in this busy, noisy, digitally empowered world. For once you lose a customer’s trust, you might have lost them for good – especially since your competitors will welcome them with open arms.

So use the above principles for good, not for evil, and remember that it’s all about understanding people’s motivations – not trying to twist their thinking.

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In this article Nir Eyal interviews Buster Benson, a Slack product manager (and former Twitter), about cognitive biases, and who has done extensive work in this field:

He used the Wikipedia page referenced above a lot, but found it not served his needs:

_“However, honestly, the Wikipedia page is a bit of a tangled mess. Despite trying to absorb the information of this page many times over the years, very little of it seems to stick. I often scan it and feel like I’m not able to find the bias I’m looking for, and then quickly forget what I’ve learned. I think this has to do with how the page has organically evolved over the years.”

Read the Medium article. It is super-informative. It led to the Biases overview depicted in Editable list of cognitive biases involved in smartphones and social media and shown below:

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Similar to “WILFing”, something I came acroos a long time ago: “Wilfing” - or surfing the web without any real purpose - has become a new national pastime, according to a survey out today.

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