The psychology of “have to” versus “want to” in apps

If the recent heatwaves across much of the world didn’t twig you to it, summer is definitely here. And with it and the sunny weather comes the usual impetus to get off our chairs where we’ve spent the winter making the perfect print of our backside and lose some weight; mostly so we can go outside in summer clothes without feeling grossly inadequate. But how to go about it? So of us will undoubtedly go to the gym, some will take up exercise classes, and some of us will re-open that weight loss and training app that we used a couple of times during winter then just spent the rest of the time guiltily swiping away notifications about how we’ve not used it in ages.

Why did we let that app fall by the wayside?

Well a recent study by French researchers has pointed towards an answer that really, we shouldn’t be surprised about. It all comes down to choice and free will.

If you’re given the option between playing that new game you just bought, or doing the dishes because, well, they really need done and you’re sure you saw something moving in the pile yesterday. What will you choose? Most likely the game; after all, the game isn’t demanding that you play it, just giving you the option. And therein lies the crunch; if we feel we have to do something, we automatically resent it.

It’s called “reactance”, and it’s essentially our inbuilt defense mechanism when it comes to things encroaching on our free will. Another way to look at it is it’s the stubborn toddler inside us all still folding its arms, pouting and saying “No!” every time we’re asked to do something. This is why many of these apps that work around the notion of keeping a daily record of things like sleep cycles or calories eaten or exercise done tend to gain a lot of users at first and then those same users drop out of the loop just as fast. The app becomes a chore and they abandon it for Angry Birds because Angry Birds isn’t nagging you like an irritating partner; instead it’s that attractive stranger you occasionally exchange smiles with at your local coffee shop. Available, but not pushing, giving you the choice.

But the easiest way to disarm reactance? Just tack on “but it’s entirely up to you.” or something similar on to that. By telling someone that it’s up to them whether they comply with you or not flicks that stubborn switch off and makes them more likely to acquiesce. In the aforementioned study, researchers approached people in the street and asked them if they had any coins to spare so they could get a bus. They then tested which approach got more results, the one where they just asked, or the one where they asked and added that the other person was entirely free to decide whether they would. Across 22,000 tests, the results were clear, reminding people of their free will meant they were more likely to give the researchers money.

So remember, if you’re designing an app, try to subtly include hints that the user is entirely free to use or leave the app. A feature like push notifications is great – as long as its used in the right manner. It seems counter intuitive, but the numbers don’t lie and the last thing you want is for your app to be seen as a chore. As soon as you flick that reactance switch, people will start to pull away. As an app developer, you’ve got enough on your plate designing your app without worrying about things like a Mobile Backend either.

At Kumulos we’ve got a Mobile Backend as a Service built from the ground up to give you the Mobile Backend you need for your app. So why not get in touch today? Of course, it’s entirely up to you whether you do or not.