What drives user behavior?


If you have been following my posts for some time, you would have noticed I want to uncover the anatomy of habit-forming products like WhatsApp, Instagram, or others. I want to do that because I feel the only way to protect us from such products is by knowing how they use human psychology.

Renowned writer and expert Nir Eyal calls it the lack of digital antibodies driving our subordination to such products. What he means by that is, whenever we have got exposed to a newer technology, humankind has had some time to adapt to it. At the onset of the internet, we did not start with4G; first, we gradually began with Edge, then 2G leading up to even XG's in some countries. This process took a couple of years, and we as humans adapted to it over time. However, the same did not happen with products like Instagram or TikTok; within 6-7 years, their exponential growth took over the world. So, we still lack the antibodies to counter the habit-forming attributes of such products and fell right into their trap.

This article aims to discern how human behavior works and the attributes that drive us towards using any product. Everyone would know about Stanford, a place right at the heart of Silicon Valley, where most of this digital euphoria burgeoned. But, what most people don't know is that Stanford has a specialized lab called the 'Persuasive Technology Lab,' led by Prof. B J Fogg. The lab does extensive research on how tech companies harvest human psychology to craft outstanding products.

Prof B J Fogg's behavior model gave a simple equation[ B = MAT ] to understand human behavior towards products.


Fogg Behavior Model
Figure - Fogg`s behavior model


Why do we use any product? There are only three probable answers: to seek pleasure, avoid any form of pain; avoiding fear, or seek social validation and avoid rejections. If we map either of these to the products, it will look like this – Instagram or Fb for likes and shares, thereby seeking social validation; Netflix or Prime to zone out and seek pleasure. There can be numerous others that we can map out. Our motivations are identified and thereby used by the companies to design features and products to create cognitive cycles that draw us back to these products.


For a long time, the most straightforward recipe to create a successful product has been to pick a complicated one, trim down all the complications, and ease users` ability to interact. In most cases, even a motivated user will not use a product if it's not easier to use. We can easily find how companies ensure that the users` ability to interact is significantly enhanced– Recall how many times you have used 'Login with Facebook/Google' on various apps. One-touch, and we create a new account on an app, completely ignoring the amount of data we agree to share between these interlocking partners.


What if you didn't get a push notification every time you get an email or a WhatsApp? Trigger is the catalyst that starts user interaction with the product. Even the most motivated user with the ability to use will not interact with the product if an appropriate trigger is missing. So, a trigger should be present when the user has sufficient Motivation and the Ability to take any action.

Which one to increase first? Motivation vs. Ability

The answer is ABILITY. Though the equation B=MAT looks simple, Motivation is the most subjective part of all the variables. Increasing human Motivation or desire is an enormously difficult task for any product. It's not impossible, but it is not financially viable for the company to invest humongous time and resources. However, increasing the ability to use is more uncomplicated and cost-effective too.

So now that we know what drives our behavior while interacting with these products, we should consider each factor in the equation and account for managing it. Are there ways to do that? Yes, in my next article, I will be talking about ways to manage our response to these habit-forming products that may help us develop some 'antibodies' against them.

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