Beyond Self-Tracking and Reminders: Designing Smartphone Apps That Support Habit Formation

in CHI2015, Conference paper (text), Seoul, South Korea


Habit formation is an important part of behavior change interventions: to ensure an intervention has long-term effects, the new behavior has to turn into a habit and become automatic. Smartphone apps could help with this process by supporting habit formation. To better understand how, we conducted a 4-week study exploring the influence of different types of cues and positive reinforcement on habit formation and reviewed the functionality of 115 habit formation apps. We discovered that relying on reminders supported repetition but hindered habit development, while the use of event-based cues led to increased automaticity; positive reinforcement was ineffective. The functionality review revealed that existing apps focus on self-tracking and reminders, and do not support event-based cues. We argue that apps, and technology-based interventions in general, have the potential to provide real habit support, and present design guidelines for interventions that could support habit formation through contextual cues and implementation intentions.