Power over the mind: how your behaviour is influenced 

12 septembre 2023

Easy-to-use and recognise psychological principles that determine behaviour.


You’re almost there. Just one more step. You’re already at 6 out of 7. Just add some profile information and LinkedIn will give you ‘all-star status’. And who doesn’t want that? 

Sound familiar? The social network site deliberately uses a number of clever principles from behavioural science, all with a specific goal: to capture your interest and keep you coming back. To steer your behaviour. To achieve this, on one hand, insight is needed into how people can be persuaded to display certain behaviours, and on the other hand, to ensure that they continue to repeat it. 

LinkedIn is not unique in this, of course: every successful app, site or network uses these techniques. And soon you can too.  


Behavioural scientists are interested in how people make decisions and how they behave. Especially when it comes to the choices they make as consumers. Marketers want people to buy their product or service and preferably continue to use it. But how do you make that happen? 

In any case, it’s not by relying on the classic “knowledge-attitude-behaviour” model that entire generations of marketing professionals have been brought up with. Not that the model is wrong, but that approach is too simplistic and doesn’t take into account the complex factors that influence our behaviour. 

If you find out that you have a horrible disease and the only remedy is changing your lifestyle, I guarantee your behaviour will change immediately. But, unfortunately for the marketer, in all other cases, providing (many) buying arguments in your communication does not lead directly to people running to the store. We humans are simply not as rational as we think we are. 

Back to the LinkedIn example. We can identify two clear psychological principles at play here. 

  1. The Need for Cognitive Closure is our brain’s compelling desire to finish something. We want to get things done. No more ambiguity, cross it off the list and move on. The “cliffhanger” phenomenon best illustrates this principle. We want, no, we need to know how a story continues. And thanks to Netflix, this principle resulted in a whole new verb: binge-watching. 

  2. The second principle is the Effect of Endowed Progress. Think of a stamp card from the car wash or a coffee shop that already has a stamp on it. You don’t just throw that away. It’s a silent motivator to get it filled up. (Answer honestly: how many half-stamped cards do you have at home?). 

It's a well-known phenomenon in the behavioural sciences and can be used to motivate people to perform a certain task. The principle is that you make people feel like they already have a head start and that they are therefore already on the right track. Even with something as simple as a cup of coffee or a car wash. 
E-learning environments (and also games) often use this principle: you have to make an effort to master a level and only then can you ‘unlock’ the next one. Before you know it, you’re halfway through the course. Stopping now would be a waste of your investment. 


Charities also regularly use endowed progress. For example through a matching gift campaign where a sponsor promises to double the donated amount. This gives people a sense of progress towards the ultimate goal of the campaign, and can motivate them to donate more to contribute to this progress.  

The World Wildlife Fund, for instance, ran a campaign where every donated euro was doubled by a sponsor, which made people feel more involved and motivated to donate. 

When asked about designing desired behaviour, behavioural scientists always start by asking a number of questions that are derived from psychological principles. Here are a few of the most common questions that refer to the acclaimed book “The Art of Designing Behaviour” (Astrid Groenewegen). Not just questions, they simultaneously serve as tips: 

  • Can you make the request personal? Personal attention is everything. Once you have the feeling of a relationship, the commitment factor increases by a factor of 10; 

  • Can you compare the desired behaviour to that of others, preferably from the same social group (in essence, we’re all herd animals and – barring exceptions – we will always follow the norm); 

  • Can you make people feel like they’re losing something if they don’t choose the desired behaviour (it has been shown that the pain of losing money is greater than the joy of finding money); 

  • Can you make the desired behaviour easy (think of the Cup-a-Soup salespeople who provided vending machines in every office for the 4 o’clock moment, or the entrance to a gym). 

These, and many other insights from behavioural science are fascinating. I continuously investigate their relevance and application in designing and developing digital experiences for customers. Want to know more? Let’s talk. Many satisfied customers went before you (an example of social proof). 

Inspired by the LinkedIn principles? Dive into this reading tip: “Hooked” (Nir Eyal). 

Daan Goote
Daan Goote
Client Lead & Consultant behaviour and psychology

Daan Goote is a psychologist and consultant in the field of (public) communication and marketing. He applies knowledge and learnings from behavioural science. 'People are not as rational as they think' is by far the most important insight.

Restez informé.e. Inscrivez-vous à notre newsletter (en anglais)

iO respecte votre vie privée. Vous pouvez vous désinscrire à tout moment.

 Ou recevez des mises à jour et des informations via notre newsletter WhatsApp !