Behavior Design

Social psychology for social software.

Way back in 2004, I wanted to apply solid social psychology to the design of online communities. Pundits in the then-nascent field of social software were struggling with fundamental issues of human behavior and social influence, issues I knew had already been studied by psychologists... just not on the internet.

So, I enrolled at the University of Minnesota and spent two years dredging scientific journals for empirical research that could be applied to online social behavior. The results are catalogued here, from meme theory to mob mentality. Now, we call it "Behavior Design."

Authentic Incentive Systems

Contests, sweepstakes, and other powerful incentives can undermine your users' intrinsic motivations. This article shows you how to amplify them, instead.

The Overjustification Effect

A behaviorist interpretation of how powerful rewards and can overshadow intrinsic motivations.

Anonymity and Antisocial Behavior

A review of empirical research on the psychology behind the internet's myriad forms of misbehavior.

The Deep Magic of Behaviorism

How reinforcement schedules combine to produce all manner of complex, human behavior.

Memetic Selection

Meme theory is much more than ear worms and lolcats. This article delves into the fundamental forces that shape social behavior.


Research on group polarization and decision theory informs a fascinating, new model of groupthink.

On the Wisdom of Crowds

Social software designers would do well to keep in mind the many caveats to this popular theory.

Negative Reinforcement

It doesn't mean what you think it means.