The science behind behavior change can be as complex as human nature, but it also follows predictable patterns. When it comes to habits, that pattern is most easily visualized as a loop composed of three interrelated stages: cue, action, reward. In this so-called habit loop, an event (cue) occurs, which triggers the brain to respond (action) in a way that results in a positive rush of neurotransmitters (reward). As Heathline explains “The pleasure or relief you experience reinforces the cue.”
Vessel Partners relies on theories of behavior change to design engaging healthcare apps, and the cue-action-reward cycle is one of our most referenced principles — especially when it comes to user retention. But just because neuroscience adheres to common principles we can design for does not mean the cue-action-reward cycle works the same way for everyone. Differences in personalities are often accompanied by differences in processing patterns or neurotransmitter levels. Positive reinforcement might work as a small reward for most users, but some people really hate receiving compliments and can be put off by this papproach.
Fortunately, an understanding of the psychology behind personalities has opened the door for a more customized approach to the cue-action-reward cycle.
Vessel Partners recently worked with a leading pharmaceutical company to define specific cues/actions/rewards based on personality profiles that could then be leveraged in an app designed to help patients with Alzheimer's. Vessel Partners founder Zach McGill lead a workshop based on the “Big 5” personality model and developed the following guidelines for more personalized cues/actions/rewards in the app:
Creating new habits isn’t just a matter of wanting to change; it’s about reprogramming the brain to replace a negative cue-action-reward cycle with a positive one. For healthcare apps, which are so often geared toward replacing bad habits with good ones, it is essential to understand both the overarching theories of behavioral science and the granular differences in personalities.
If you’d like to learn more about Vessel Partner’s work designing healthcare apps based on behavioral theories like the cue-action-reward cycle, check out our case studies page — or contact us for a complimentary consultation.
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