Games for behavior change, Part two

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This is the second in a two-post series by guest blogger, Rafa Kern. Read the first post here

In my first post, I wrote about how games can be helpful in training our internal elephant—that is, how games affect our automatic processing and can help us develop new habits. In this post, I’ll explore how games can also affect the elephant’s rider, which represents our conscious reasoning. Before I do that, though, I would like to provide a disclaimer along the lines of the one Daniel Kahneman provided in Thinking Fast and Slow (2011): I don’t think the rider and the elephant are necessarily “true,” strictly speaking. It is sometimes hard to distinguish these two processes and harder still to map them onto physically distinct entities in the human brain. They simply stand in for two generally different ways of processing information. In essence, they are “useful fictions” that we can use to better understand how games can impact our habitual behaviors and identities.

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Games for behavior change, Part one

rafa pic long

rafa pic longRafa Kern‘s research bridges the fields of design, interactive media, and education. Kern is a member of the Real World Impact Games Lab at Columbia University Teachers College, an initiative focused on designing and studying games for social  and educational impact.

If you’re like most other people, there are two voices in your head. Try it: tell yourself to be quiet. See? Two voices. In psychology, there’s a pretty handy metaphor used to describe the relationship between these two. Think of it like an elephant and a rider (Haidt, 2006). In this metaphor, the elephant is the voice that reacted to your telling yourself to be quiet. It represents the automatic mental processes, which are responsible for quick and reliable action and controls basic pleasure and pain. The rider, on the other hand, represents our conscious reasoning, or controlled system of thought—it’s the voice that did the telling. This system can project into the future to assess the consequences of our actions, and prompt further inquiry into the conditions that shape our reasoning. The elephant can be trained and guided by the driver but, at the end of the day, the elephant is the one in control.

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