The Slot Machine in Your Pocket
By: Tristan Harris
When we get sucked into our smartphones or distracted, we think it's just an accident and our responsibility. But it's not. It's also because smartphones and apps hijack our innate psychological biases and vulnerabilities.
I learned about our minds' vulnerabilities when I was a magician. Magicians start by looking for blind spots, vulnerabilities and biases of people's minds, so they can influence what people do without them even realizing it. Once you know how to push people's buttons, you can play them like a piano. And this is exactly what technology does to your mind. App designers play your psychological vulnerabilities in the race to grab your attention.
I want to show you how they do it, and offer hope that we have an opportunity to demand a different future from technology companies.
If you're an app, how do you keep people hooked? Turn yourself into a slot machine.
The average person checks their phone 150 times a day. Why do we do this? Are we making 150 conscious choices? One major reason why is the number one psychological ingredient in slot machines: intermittent variable rewards.
If you want to maximize addictiveness, all tech designers need to do is link a user's action (like pulling a lever) with a variable reward. You pull a lever and immediately receive either an enticing reward (a match, a prize!) or nothing. Addictiveness is maximized when the rate of reward is most variable.