Do Persuasive Designs Make Smartphones More Addictive? -- A Mixed-Methods Study on Chinese University Students

Xiaowei Chen, Anders Hedman, Verena Distler, Vincent Koenig

Persuasive designs become prevalent on smartphones, and an increasing number of users report having problematic smartphone use behaviours. Persuasive designs in smartphones might be accountable for the development and reinforcement of such problematic use. This paper uses a mixed-methods approach to study the relationship between persuasive designs and problematic smartphone use: (1) questionnaires (N=183) to investigate the proportion of participants having multiple problematic smartphone use behaviours and smartphone designs and applications (apps) that they perceived affecting their attitudes and behaviours, and (2) interviews (N=10) to deepen our understanding of users' observations and evaluations of persuasive designs. 25\% of the participants self-reported having multiple problematic smartphone use behaviours, with short video, social networking, game and learning apps perceived as most attitude and behaviour-affecting. Interviewees identified multiple persuasive designs in most of these apps and stated that persuasive designs prolonged their screen time, reinforced phone-checking habits, and caused distractions. Overall, this study provides evidence to argue that persuasive designs contribute to problematic smartphone use, potentially making smartphones more addictive. We end our study by discussing the ethical implications of persuasive designs that became salient in our study.

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