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Why counting steps does not lead to behavioural change

21 April 2022
Have you checked your step tracker to see how many calories you burned today? The market for innovative products, such as online tools, that allow consumers to improve their performance is constantly growing. Yet the feedback from these technologies does not always lead to the desired behavioral changes among this target group, says SBE researcher Florian Buehler. The reason: consumers only accept results that maintain their positive self-image.

In his study "Studies on the consumer self and the performance in the age of technology", Buehler shows that when an app provides feedback, people prefer more detailed information. As soon as the app does this, for example by indicating that the consumer has a high IQ score, but at the same time indicates that his emotional skills are inadequate, the consumer ignores that piece of negative feedback. This, says Buehler, is because we value the perception of our 'positive' self-image more highly than the produced output of an online device that "doesn't understand our complexity enough." 

Similarly, people do not appreciate art from artificial intelligence (AI). Creative and artistic works can only be produced by humans. Many say, that's what distinguishes us from animals and machines. But tests have shown that people cannot tell the difference between human-made or machine-produced works of art. "Many find it hard to accept that technology has already reached the point where AI’s can also create Renaissance paintings or classical music compositions with the same goosebumps effect," Buehler says.

According to Buehler, it is therefore important that companies take the role of people’s self image into account when developing and marketing technological innovations. This can be done, for example, by understanding first how and why consumers use a product. 

The research also shows that product development and the attached marketing fall short from a purely rational and technical point of view. "You see that many consumers stop using the purchased tools or devices after a few months. And that is because the feedback focuses too much on things that they either do not consider important or do not fit into their self-image. Too bad, because these technologies stimulate our bodies to become healthier, smarter and stronger."

Florian Buehler's research paper will be published soon.