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This word captology is still relatively unusual outside a group of researchers in the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University. The group studies the theory and design of the ways computing technology can be used to influence people. If you think that sounds a bit Big Brotherish, you are not altogether in error. The emphasis is on influencing people for good, for example to encourage healthy living or improve road safety, but the group is aware such methods could just as well be used for baser ends, such as persuading you to buy things, or to hand over personal data that could then be misused. To that end the group, led by Professor B J Fogg, is also studying the implications of the unreasoning trust that many of us put into computers because they are wrongly thought of as as being unaffected by human agency. The word was coined by Professor Fogg in 1996 as a partial acronym — from the initial letters of Computers As Persuasive Technology — together with the ending -ology for a field of study. Someone engaged in the field is a captologist.

[I’m grateful to Don Chandler for telling me about this term.]

As pioneers of a nascent discipline called captology, Fogg and a handful of other visionaries are exploring the theory, design and analysis of computers and related technologies as instruments of persuasion.

Electronic Engineering Times, Jun. 1999

The class in captology (Computers as Persuasive Technology) is Stanford professor B. J. Fogg’s brainchild, a new area of study into ways that computers are particularly useful in persuading people to change attitudes, buy certain products, or relinquish personal information.

SF Weekly, Apr. 2000

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Page created 06 May 2000