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Friday, July 22, 2011

Persuasive Features in Web-Based Alcohol and Smoking Interventions: A Systematic Review of the Literature

In the past decade, the use of technologies to persuade, motivate, and activate individuals’ health behavior change has been a quickly expanding field of research. The use of the Web for delivering interventions has been especially relevant. Current research tends to reveal little about the persuasive features and mechanisms embedded in Web-based interventions targeting health behavior change.

The purpose of this systematic review was to extract and analyze persuasive system features in Web-based interventions for substance use by applying the persuasive systems design (PSD) model. In more detail, the main objective was to provide an overview of the persuasive features within current Web-based interventions for substance use.

We conducted electronic literature searches in various databases to identify randomized controlled trials of Web-based interventions for substance use published January 1, 2004, through December 31, 2009, in English. We extracted and analyzed persuasive system features of the included Web-based interventions using interpretive categorization.

The primary task support components were utilized and reported relatively widely in the reviewed studies. Reduction, self-monitoring, simulation, and personalization seem to be the most used features to support accomplishing user’s primary task. This is an encouraging finding since reduction and self-monitoring can be considered key elements for supporting users to carry out their primary tasks. The utilization of tailoring was at a surprisingly low level. The lack of tailoring may imply that the interventions are targeted for too broad an audience. Leveraging reminders was the most common way to enhance the user-system dialogue. Credibility issues are crucial in website engagement as users will bind with sites they perceive credible and navigate away from those they do not find credible. Based on the textual descriptions of the interventions, we cautiously suggest that most of them were credible. The prevalence of social support in the reviewed interventions was encouraging.

Understanding the persuasive elements of systems supporting behavior change is important. This may help users to engage and keep motivated in their endeavors. Further research is needed to increase our understanding of how and under what conditions specific persuasive features (either in isolation or collectively) lead to positive health outcomes in Web-based health behavior change interventions across diverse health contexts and populations.

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