Evaluating an app which nags users to apologize to their phones

Building (in part) on previous research into the potential benefits of superfluous apologies, researchers Alice Lam, Randy Hsu and Ivan Lobachev of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of British Columbia, Canada, decided to investigate whether it might be possible to increase phone users’ “emotional connection” with their phone, by nudging them to frequently apologize to it.

Their experiments were designed around an app (called Pet Phone) which nagged users to apologize when the phone experienced a negative event of some kind – e.g. if the user allowed its battery to discharge too far, or if the phone was dropped.

“We extend this concept to encourage a smartphone user to adopt a more caretaking role toward their phone. By prompting the user to apologize for perceived transgressions, we can create the self-perception that ‘I am someone who is concerned for my phone’s wellbeing’, thus forming an emotional connection between user and phone. It is worth noting that the apology may not need to be entirely heartfelt and sincere, as superfluous apologies still demonstrate empathetic concern.”

The experiments showed, however, that there could be room for improvements with regard to the app’s emotional-bond-enhancement potential :

“Due to time constraints, we designed the application to output a high number of apology prompts, with the intention of encouraging users to apologize frequently to their phones in a short period of time. Instead, it appears that users simply learned to ignore the high volume of apology prompts.”

Put another way :

“The fact that there was a decrease in apologies without a corresponding decrease in apology-causing events suggests that users learned to ignore the notifications generated by the app, instead of responding by apologizing.” [see graph]

For full details see: Pet Phone: Using Apologies to Enhance User-Smartphone Attachment

BONUS (apologetically related)