Any behavior can be ‘gamified’ and meaningless scores yield better performance

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According to a study published in Psychological Science any human behavior such as online purchases, number of steps you have taken in a day, number of times you drank water, etc. can be “gamified” and awarded digital points and these meaningless scores seem to yield better performance.

Scientists have determined that tracking a person’s behavior in this particular way helps to spur further action and could be effective motivators, as long as those scores are accelerating.

We like high scores and while there have been studies that have proven that earlier, one particular thing that scientists haven’t been able to figure out is how much points for a particular action could actually be likable. Scientists at Chinese University of Hong Kong Business School said that neither the high score nor how fast the score increases matters to people, but it is the way in which it increases that becomes the motivating factor.

It’s most motivating if the score first increases at a relatively slow rate and then increases faster and faster, scientists note.

Studies indicated that people might be more sensitive to a score’s acceleration, or how quickly the rate of change increases, because they can sense that the number is going up more quickly over time. This acceleration may give the sense that they’re doing increasingly better even when they know the score isn’t tied to actual performance.

In three related experiments, the researchers asked participants to type a target word as many times as they could within a 3-minute period. An onscreen display showed participants the number of times they had entered the word and the elapsed time. Some participants also saw a score at the center of this display — they were told the number did not reflect their performance but would increase according to a predetermined pattern.

The results were clear: People who saw an accelerating score outperformed their peers, typing the target words more times within the 3-minute window compared with those who saw a score that increased more slowly over time (decelerating score), a score that increased at a constant rate, or no score at all.

Additional data from an online experiment showed that participants were uniquely sensitive to acceleration: They reported that the accelerating score increased faster relative to decelerating scores and scores that increased at a constant rate. Even though the accelerating score had the same final velocity as the “fast” score that increased at a constant rate, participants reported that the accelerating score increased faster.

To find out whether this acceleration effect would hold up in the context of real-world behavior, scientists =took their experiment to the gym. Again, they found that participants who saw an arbitrary accelerating score exerted more effort, taking more steps on a step machine compared with those who saw a decelerating score or no score. This effect that did not dissipate over four successive rounds of testing. The findings suggest that an accelerating score can help motivate people to keep going, even when completing a physically demanding task.

The acceleration effect may even hold up over the course of a whole day. Data from an online study showed that participants completed more surveys over an 8-hour period if they saw an accelerating score compared with a decelerating score. The researchers say that this accelerating score — what they call the X number — could have a wide variety of useful applications.

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