Behavioral Science, Gaming and Zombies: 6 Behavioral Science Technologies to make you Successful in the New Year and Beyond

Photo by Caspar Rubin on Unsplash

By Emaley McCulloch, M.Ed, BCBA

bSci21 Contributing Writer

What are your goals for the year? If you are like many, you have a few nebulous aims peppered with good intentions.  Lacking in the mix, however, are the crucial ingredients of specificity, a plan, and the contingencies to help meet your goals. Like all of us, you are an “agent” who is bound by behavioral laws and prone to procrastination.  Even with all the willpower you can muster, you will most likely fall short of your goals unless you use behavioral science to help you. Behavioral Science gives us strategies such as self-monitoring/management, reinforcement, motivation, and environmental arrangement to create the right conditions for success.  Unlike the Greek-sculpture-esque personal trainer provided with a gym membership, most of us can’t have our own personal behavioral scientist to help us design and track our personal behavior change programs (though it would be interesting to see a BCBA wearing sweatpants and blowing into a whistle).  However, we do have access to the next best thing—and it’s all thanks to technology.  Following are some of those very technologies and apps that use behavioral science to help us succeed in meeting our goals for the next year and beyond!  (Some of them may even help with a few of our workout goals…)

Learn a New LanguageDuolingo is a popular, free online language learning program that has some pretty impressive independent research, demonstrating that 34 hours on Duolingo is equivalent to a semester of an introductory college course.  You can select from 26 different languages from Spanish to Swahili. (They even introduced Klingon!) It starts by taking a simple baseline assessment of your language abilities, then introduces small, 10 minute modules that systematically introduce vocabulary and concepts. In my opinion, this program beautifully uses shaping, prompt fading, spaced repetition, and differential reinforcement. To make the program “sticky”, they have added gaming components such as levels, points, a progress bar and bonus skills. I’ve already started my Spanish program.

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Read More Books– Join an online “Goodreads Reading Challenge.” Whether you want to read one book a month or a book every week, you can set your goal, get recommendations, social network with friends and email reminders. Your reading is displayed on a progress bar to keep you on track. You can also see your friends’ progress, make comments, and provide praise and encouragement to each other. This program could use some competition and gaming elements but it’s a good start.

Get in Shape– There are so many options when it comes to technologies that help you track your fitness goals but I chose to highlight two technologies 1) Zombies Run and 2)Fitbit.

Zombies Run is an app that you download on your phone and use as you walk or run. The app uses story-based gaming to immerse the runner into a post-apocalyptic world where you are being chased by zombies. You open the app, put your head phones on and press “Run.” While you are running, you hear soundtrack, a story, and instructions through radio contact. There are 23 missions that you fulfill to find the truth, evade the zombies, and help the human race. The game tracks your movement and speed, and rewards your behavior by providing more story, removing zombies, and giving you “supplies” to build your base. This app will provide motivation to do what it was meant to do: get your body moving!  (What else would you do if you were being chased by zombies?)

FitbitIf you haven’t already purchased a Fitbit, this may be the year to do so. They have worked out the kinks and now have many versions of this Activity Tracker. The Fitbit is a wristband that tracks your activity (and sleep) and displays your progress on the wristband. When you meet your activity goal (e.g. 10,000 steps), the wristband lights up and vibrates. You can also compete with friends and earn badges through an optional gaming component.

Improve your PostureLumo is a device that is clipped onto your shirt that tracks your posture and activity. During the day, it provides reminders through gentle vibrations to lift your body and head when it senses your body slouching. It also syncs to an app that provides monitoring on your progress and personal goals.

Save and Invest MoneyAcorns decreases the response effort that is usually needed for investing by taking the small change from daily purchases and investing it into “Smart Portfolios”. The app links to your bank account and when you make a small purchase (e.g. coffee for $.5.75) it takes the small change ($0.25) and puts it into your portfolio. Overtime the small change adds up and allows those without a big chunk of money and investment knowledge to start building a nest egg.

Have you used any of these technologies in a behavior change plan for yourself? What do you think of these technologies? What other behavior change technologies are out there that you like?  Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!

Emaley-McCulloch2Emaley McCulloch, M.Ed, BCBA co-founded Autism Training Solutions, LLC in  2008, and is currently the Vice President of Relias Institute at Relias Learning. Relias Learning is the premier provider of online health care training for Health and Human Services, Senior Care and Public Safety. Emaley is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and holds an MA in Special Education. She has served in the field of ABA for over 18 years and has provided and overseen services to individuals between the ages of 18 months to 24 years in homes, schools and clinical settings. For eight years she served as a consultant and supervisor at agencies based in Hawaii and Japan where she trained groups of professionals and parents. Emaley’s passion is elearning, staff training, dissemination of evidenced-based interventions, research, film and videography and using technology in the field of behavior analysis and special education.  You can contact her at [email protected].


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  1. These technologies don’t really “use” behavioral science. They just happen to involve them. The developers did not explicitly say “we designed this using shaping based on X research.”

    This is pretty close to what some might call “projecting.”

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