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The science of persuasion

March 29, 2017

Study examines factors influencing the success of persuasion strategies related to sustainable mobility

Human modes of transportation have grave impacts on the environment, accounting for between 20 and 25 percent of world energy consumption and CO2 emissions. Two factors that make a bad problem even worse are increased urbanisation and mobility solutions that are highly dependent on private vehicles. Efforts over the years to persuade private vehicle users to switch to more sustainable modes of transport have delivered mixed results, and a new study titled “Exploring the Links between Persuasion, Personality and Mobility Types in Personalized Mobility Applications” endeavours to help explain why some persuasive strategies work better than others. Research for the study was partially funded by the European Commission project OPTIMUM.

The authors of the study (Evangelia Anagnostopoulou, Babis Magoutas, Efthimios Bothos, Johan Schrammel, Rita Orji and Gregoris Mentzas) examined “the perceived persuadability of eight persuasive strategies on users of five personality types and three mobility types” to find out which variables come into play in determining whether a persuasive strategy succeeds or fails.

Personality traits, based on the so-called Big-Five model, were categorised as follows: Openness; Conscientiousness; Extraversion; Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. The Big-Five model has, for example been used to guide the design of persuasive systems for combating obesity trends in teenagers.

A field of eight mobility types—ranging from “devoted drivers” to “car-free choosers” was narrowed down to three broader classes: Drivers, Potential non-Drivers, and non-Drivers.

A three-part questionnaire was then developed to gather data on approximately 330 survey respondents. The first part included 10 questions about participants’ personality; the second party was used to identify the mobility type of participants; and the third part concerned user susceptibility to persuasive strategy, with eight of eight selected strategies presented in a storyboard showing a character and her interactions with a mobile application that aims to encourage her to use more environmentally friendly transport options.

The persuasive strategies employed were:

  • Comparison—comparison of one’s own mobility behaviour to that of others;
  • Self-monitoring—tracking user behaviour and providing feedback on the emissions caused by his/her choices;
  • Suggestion—stem-generated suggestions that urge users to follow more environmental transportation modes;
  • Simulation—graphical representations presenting the impact of mode choices on the environment;
  • Cooperation—challenges such as a bicycle commuter challenge where users cooperate to meet certain targets;
  • Praise—positive feedback when users achieve or exceed eco-efficiency goals;
  • Personalisation—route planners that remember past preferences, frequently chosen means of transport and simply the processes of find the most sustainable travel choice; and
  • Competition—online competitions to motivate mobility-related behaviour change.

Using PLS-SEM models to interpret the data, the results of the study demonstrate that knowing the mobility and personality type of users are helpful in deciding which persuasive strategies are more effective. If, for example, the individual has high scores in Extraversion, Openness or Conscientiousness, the most convincing strategy will likely be based on mobility type. If the individual has high Agreeableness of Neuroticism, both personality and mobility types should be taken into consideration.

Overall, the three most convincing persuasive strategies for Drivers are comparison, competition and praise; Potential non-Drivers are more susceptible to comparison, suggestion and competition; while non-Drivers respond best to self-monitoring, comparison and suggestion.

The next step, the authors, conclude, will be to “implement a mobile application that recommends routes and tries to persuade users to make more sustainable mobility choices based on the envisaged personalised persuasion service.

Click here to read the full paper.