A few years ago at SXSW in Austin, I saw a short talk by designer Pete Trainor that I really loved and still sticks with me as a way of thinking about what makes certain apps so addictive.
Trainor’s research looked at the connection between dopamine in the brain and app engagement. He focused on the limbic system (responsible for social behaviour and habits) and the role of dopamine, “the rockstar of brain science”, which makes us feel pleasure.
Since our brains are highly motivated by dopamine, Trainor looked at certain types of experiences that trigger the release of dopamine. He found that the nexus of three key elements could create ‘addictiveness’:
Achieving something, or completing a task can be highly rewarding. LinkedIn is successful in getting people to build their profiles giving us a percentage of completeness. When we see our profile is only 60% complete, we want to see our ‘score’ as 100%.
Acts of kindness are rewarding. Social media ‘sharing’ and ‘liking’ fall into this category as we feel we are doing something good. There is an ego-related element too – people are encouraged by watching and copying others do good things. Think of the ice-bucket challenge.
Experiences that pause but then continue on, encouraging us to come back. Games are a great example, as they are designed with ever-increasing levels that provide ongoing challenges that users can strive to master.
by Elynn Lorimer
CEO & Senior Consultant
Niiu Digital Inc.