Virtual Reality as a Persuasive Technology for Healthcare

Persuasive technology has been defined by B.J. Fogg as any interactive computing system that is designed with the aim to change people’s attitudes and/or behaviours. These technologies work along the science of Captology (Fogg, 1996), which stands for Computers As Persuasive TechnOLOGY. The emergence of virtual reality has advanced the capabilities of what can be achieved using a computer/mobile phone, hence also impacting the manner in which these technologies might be used as persuasive technology. Information technology in any form has the potential to influence users’ attitudes and motivate behaviour change (Oinas-Kukkonen and Harjumaa, 2008). When traditional persuasion theories are applied to technology, it enhances our understanding of how technology can be customised to instigate specific attitude and/or behaviour changes amongst users.

Thus far virtual reality does not appear to have been studied from the persuasion perspective within the context of healthcare education/training. Virtual reality interventions that support training/learning in any manner, are taking on the role of technology that has the potential to change user attitudes and/or behaviours.


Virtual reality as captology


According to Fogg (2017), viewing technology as captology, allows designers and researchers the opportunity to understand how users use the technology and measure the implications of the technology on the users. Applying a persuasion perspective might help designers in designing VR systems that are optimised with provider/user intentions in mind, and are able to follow a systematic pathway toward motivating users to perform the intended attitude and/or behaviour change actions.

Tussyadiah et al. (2016) have suggested that in order to heighten the persuasive power of VR technology, the interventions should be able to improve aspects of the experience that have implications on user presence. Guadagno, Blascovich and Bailenson (2007) have stressed upon the role of social influence within virtual environments, as a factor that improves the ability of technology to act as an effective persuasion agent. However, characteristics such as gender and age might have an effect on how social influence is perceived within VR environments. Furthermore, spatial, temporal, social and individual conditions might also affect the persuasiveness of VR.

Persuasive technology (via computers, mobile applications) research within the healthcare education and training context is growing (Harjumaa, Segerståhl, and Oinas-Kukkonen, 2009; Wiafe et al., 2012; Lehto, 2013), however despite the growing number of VR healthcare education and training interventions, there do not appear to be any persuasive technology based approached applied to VR interventions. Persuasion based theoretical models such as Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB), Cialdini’s 6 principles of influence, Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA) and Elaboration Likelihood model could be adopted and applied to VR interventions to evaluate their persuasive powers as healthcare education and training behaviour change applications.




Fogg, B.J. (2017) Captology-Stanford University (Internet) Available from Accessed: March 17th, 2017

Guadagno, R. E., Blascovich, J., Bailenson, J. N., & McCall, C. (2007). Virtual humans and persuasion: The effects of agency and behavioral realism. Media Psychology, 10(1), 1–22.

Harjumaa, Marja, Segerståhl, Katarina, Oinas-Kukkonen, Harri (2009): Understanding persuasive software functionality in practice: a field trial of polar FT60. In: Proceedings of the 2009 International Conference on Persuasive Technology , 2009, . pp. 2.

Lehto, T. (2013). Virtual health coaching for consumers: a persuasive systems design perspective. International Journal of Networking and Virtual Organisations, 13(1), 24–41.

Oinas-Kukkonen, H., & Harjumaa, M. (2008). Towards deeper understanding of persuasion in software and information systems. In Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on Advances in Computer-Human Interaction, ACHI 2008 (pp. 200–205).

Tussyadiah, I., Wang, D., & Jia, C. H. (2016). Exploring the Persuasive Power of Virtual Reality Imagery for Destination Marketing. Tourism Travel and Research Association: Advancing Tourism Research Globally. Retrieved from

Wiafe, I., Nakata, K., Moran, S., & Gulliver, S. R. (2011). Considering User Attitude and Behaviour in Persuasive Systems Design : the 3D-Rab Model. ECIS 2011 Proceedings. Retrieved from










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