Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Snapchat, you son of a behavioural psychologist 

Snapchat, the app that took over the social media world in 2011, allows users to send pictures and videos that can vanish forever in seconds (depending on your setting) (Colao, 2012). A research found about 98%  users snap funny things and about 85% snap their faces and their surroundings (Utz, Muscanell & Cameran, 2015). Snapchat boasts a whooping amount of 187 daily active users (Snap Inc, 2018).There may be many reasons for the excess popularity of the app with a few that are relevant to behavioural psychology are highlighted below.

 This principle influences people to repay what they get (Cialdini, 2009). Social interaction on mobile phones is seen as akin to ‘ritualised gift giving’ (Taylor & Harper, 2002). Therefore when you receive a snap, you feel like you are obligated to snap back. What may facilitate the principle of reciprocation is the ease to snap back. When you receive a snap,the simple instruction of ‘double-tap to reply’ may make the instruction easier to follow. Past research shows that more compliance is associated with simple exercise programmes (Becker, 1985). However the rule of reciprocity is not unique to just Snapchat as it’s used in several other social interactions. 

This principle is unique to snapchat. It suggests that people attach more value to things that are scarce (Cialdini, 2009). Messages warning about limited quantity therefore signalling scarcity have been found to influence consumer’s intention of purchasing products (Aggarwal, Jun & Huh, 2011). Snapchat uses this principle as the snap that is sent can be seen for a minimum amount of time and then disappears forever. As it can never been accessed again it’s a scarce therefore valuable. Furthermore the ‘stories’ that people share on snapchat have a time limit on them as well. After 24 hours they will disappear as well. People can stray away from apps like Facebook without the fear of losing out as the pictures shared on it can be accessed at anytime however a snap story will disappear if snapchat isn’t accessed. 

Commitment and Consistency 
This Principle is another reason why people can’t get off Snapchat for more than 24 hours. When you constantly snap a person back and forth each day, a fire emoji appears next their name. We have an innate need to align our behaviour to what we’ve commitment to (Cialdini, 2009). Therefore once we start a fire, we feel rather obligated to finish it. 

Use of Reinforcements

Negative Reinforcement 
Another reason why we stay so true to streaks is because we want to remove the awful ‘ticking hour glass’ that may act as an aversive stimuli increasing our snapping behaviour. 

Positive Reinforcement 
 As we successfully remove the aversive stimuli, the number next to the fire increases which acts as a reward therefore positively reinforcing our snapping behaviour

Variable Reinforcement 
Snapchat can positively reinforce snapping behaviour through rewards or trophies. However they are variability reinforced as the trophies are locked so the users aren’t aware what action to perform. This makes it likely that the users will try to use the app more and more in the hope for a reward.

Aggarwal, P., Jun, S. Y., & Huh, J. H. (2011). Scarcity messages. Journal of Advertising40(3), 19-30.

Becker, M. H. (1985). Patient adherence to prescribed therapies. Medical care23(5), 539-555.

Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Influence: Science and practice (Vol. 4). Boston, MA: Pearson education.

Colao, J. J. (2012). Snapchat: The biggest no-revenue mobile app since Instagram. Forbes. Available at:

Snap Inc. Reports Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2017 Results. (2018). Retrieved 21 March 2018, from

Taylor, A. S., & Harper, R. (2002,). Age-old practices in the'new world': a study of gift-giving between teenage mobile phone users. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems (pp. 439-446). ACM.

Utz, S., Muscanell, N., & Cameran, K. (2015). Snapchat elicits more jealousy than Facebook: a comparison of Snapchat and Facebook use. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 18, 1e6

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