Updated: Jul 28, 2021
Do you know, every move you make online can be assessed systematically and can be used to predict and even manipulate your behavior? HOW?..Well it's not magic, it's digital psychology.
Digital psychology (also known as web psychology), is newly emerging term in the field of social psychology which combines digital marketing with the theories and principles of behavioral science to devise a kind of communication that is persuasive to our unconscious mind. It seeks to explain, why customers behave the way that they do. It believes that if we’re able to better understand the behavior (moves of the users online), we can better understand how to target and influence the audience online.
Social psychologist believes that human behavior is determined by- their own psychological characteristics and their social context. However, most digital psychologist argues that the social situation, social interaction and social perception are more likely to impact human behavior, especially in the digital space.
Hence digital marketers worldwide are now increasingly realizing the importance of psychology to trigger human buying behavior.
Just as experimental psychology has its own set of experimental devises to draw conclusions and results from the collected data, digital psychologists also run a number of experiments to understand the user psychology. For example, they would run targeted ads to find out what consumers do online, what sites they visit, what links they click on and how they navigate from one site to another.
There are a number of theories by various psychologists that explain why humans tend to make a certain decision and how you can influence that decision in your favor.
1. CONFIRMATION BIAS THEORY-
Confirmation bias theory as pointed out by Peter Wason seeks to explain that humans tend to focus and seek information that validates their own beliefs and self- hypothesis. Hence, digital psychologist would collect all the possible data about the positive ideas and perceptions of the target audience holds about a particular service/product and seek to produce contents that validate the opinions. This would in turn make the audience identify with the particular brand promoting brand loyalty.
2. SOCIAL PROOF-
Social proof as a term was coined by a great psychologist – Robert Cialdini. It argues that if a person has little or no knowledge of how to behave a given setting, she/he would look towards the action of others to provide guidance for the appropriate behavior.
Digital psychology adequately draws from the theory to devise and use various such proofs in the digital space to influence the consumer behavior. Testimonials (especially video testimonials because people have a cognitive bias towards human face), word of mouth, social following, reviews and social sharing buttons on the blogs provide some of the most effective social proof.
3. POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT-
Positive reinforcement refers to introducing a desirable or pleasant stimulus after a behavior. (Ackerman,2020)
As pointed out by B.F.Skinner, positive reinforcement increases the probability of the desired behavior being repeated. The point worth noting here is that the positive reinforcement would work best if the behavior and reward would appear close together in time. That is the reason many digital psychologists reward consumer’s purchasing behavior with a gift voucher or free after services. Praising certain task can also work as effective positive reinforcement.
Hicks Law proposes that that increasing the number of choices would increase the time taken to make a decision. And as digital psychology focuses on heuristic decisions, psychologists suggest limiting the number of choices given to the consumers. As humans are aversive to the cognitive load, it can be said that less is definitely more in the context of information and choices. Hence, breaking the larger process or content into smaller chunks is a smart choice.
Another interesting concept in the field of digital psychology is that of commitment and consistency. Cialdini (1984) in his book ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion’ lists Commitment and Consistency as of the principles influencing people’s probability of saying ‘yes’. It argues that after making a decision people often behave in consistence to the previous commitment. They do this to avoid the cognitive dissonance – mental disturbance arising from holding conflicting values, beliefs or attitudes (Cherry, 2020).
Hence, if any person is thought of as someone who has a good knowledge of arts, he or she is more likely to participate in further conversations and events around art even if she/he is not truly interested, simply to remain consistent with the public perception that has been created before. Drawing from this theory many marketers use techniques like free home trials, give away and cross selling to make the buyers committed to the product.
While ‘digital psychology’ can persuade and influence the decisions of the masses by assessing the psychological traits interpreted from the vast amount of digital data (also called digital footprints) available online, it is important to understand it’s both positive and negative consequence.
Government and political parties can use it to encourage healthy behaviors or to falsely mobilize the users. It can be used to increase the sales of healthy products and services like counseling services or to persuade people to consume harmful products like energy drinks or dieting pills.
What many people and marketers don’t understand is that the digital psychology is not a tactic or hack to drive sales or influence the decision of masses; it is a way of thinking that can be applicable in the digital domain to understand human behavior in a more objective and scientific way.
Cesario J, Higgins ET, Scholer AA (2008) Regulatory fit and persuasion: Basic principles and remaining questions. Soc Personal Psychol Compass 2:444–463.
Fairburn, C. G., & Patel, V. (2017, January 19). The impact of digital technology on psychological treatments and their dissemination. Retrieved from
Kothgassner, O. D., & Felnhofer, A. (2020). Digital Psychology as a Growing Field of Research. Digital Psychology, 1(1), 1. doi:10.24989/dp.v1i1.1852
Anon, GDS Group. 2020. Complete Guide To Digital Psychology
Cialdini, R. B. (2007). Influence: The psychology of persuasion: Robert B. Cialdini. New York: Collins.