• Using Neotany to Motivate Behavioral Change

    Konrad Lorenz argued in 1949 that infantile features triggered nurturing responses which were evolutionarily adaptive to ensure that adults cared for their children. Humans react more positively to animals with big eyes, big heads, shortened noses, etc.

    That is, humans prefer animals which exhibit neotany: the retention of child-like features—such as big heads or large eyes—into adulthood. Neotany drives our bond with Mickey Mouse and recent box office hits like March of the Penguins.

    A fresh approach to connected health may be to leverage our susceptibility to Neotany. What if we were to cute design health tools with the emotional appeal of a Tamagachi?

    At Vitality, we asked ourselves: “what if were to tap into the ‘nurture gene’ to motivate people to make healthier decisions in their daily lives?”

    In one experiment we hired a Japanese designer to paint GlowCaps (a smart pill bottle cap) as brown bears, dragons and pandas to see if people preferred them. Would people take better care of themselves, by taking their medications more regularly, if the packaging were cute?

    Beyond medication packaging, characters with emotional appeals my be useful proxies to reflect or exaggerate the state of their owners. What if your cute virtual pet who lives on your phone were to die if you didn’t walk him?

    To test this idea we are prototyping a cute keychain-pet (wireless accelerometer) where your steps are mapped to its health. Now, if you’re not active the pet on your profile page becomes lethargic and depressed.

    Will the social component of this doppler-ganger be motivating? Or is reflecting your laziness to your social graph too embarrassing? To what extent will hyper-connected people be more active if their large-cloud of friends see their (in)activity? Will social transparency result a more durable nudge that effects people over months and years?

    What are your reactions the opportunity for emotional and social connections to motivate positive behavior?

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