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Monday Gamification: Random Scores

April 25, 2011

I’m a fan of Oliver Burkeman (who writes a column in the Guardian about psychology).  So I was very pleased to see this psychophysical method for getting things done using Gamification:

Rightly or wrongly, the unique power of “intermittent variable rewards” makes them perfect for manipulating others: what is dog training, after all, except manipulating dogs? (Even dogless parents and spouses might find Pryor’s book worth reading, given how transferable her techniques seem to be.) It’s also surely why certain drama-loving people, prone to unpredictably conferring or withholding affection, seem to “addict” their partners, whether or not the manipulation’s conscious. But it raises a sunnier prospect, too: might you be able to use random rewards to addict yourself to more positive behaviours?

Which brings me to Habit Judo, a crafty self-improvement scheme devised by a Michigan law student named Allen Reece, who was finding it hard to get new habits to stick. “That’s the problem Habit Judo solves,” he told me. “It provides enough additional incentive to get you over the motivation gap until the new habit becomes ingrained.” His systeminvolves rewarding yourself with a computer-generated random score between one and 10 every time you perform a desired behaviour. Your score gradually accumulates, and at certain thresholds you “qualify” for a real reward, such as a favourite food or “move up a level”: Reece marks the levels by wearing wristbands in the colours of judo belts, hence the name. (In technology circles, the term for such ideas is “gamification”, because videogames often deploy similar reward mechanisms – but then, so did Skinner, years before videogames.)

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