Hooked [1/2]

Our increasing dependency on technology, whether we’re aware of it or not, has been a growing cause of concern for many, including myself. It has reached a stage where it’s affecting other facets of my life and has prompted me to take corrective action. I recently read a great book called “Hooked” on how these dependencies are developed, and are in fact designed to be so. I’ll try and apply this theory to some of my experiences.

How do you get Hooked?

Hook Model

The Hook Model is a four stage loop designed to hook users into using a particular product. This idea can be extended to objects other than tech products as well. The more traverses you complete through the loop, the greater is your dependency.

Stage 1 — Trigger

A trigger is a cue, an itch, the actuator that enables a behavior. Triggers are of two types — internal and external. Internal triggers are feelings whereas external triggers are prompts made by products/environment to make the user perform an action. The key lies in timing the external trigger such that it reinforces the internal trigger and eventually takes the form of a habit., i.e. the trigger forms a solid association with the product.

Stage 2 — Action

This is the actual action that you as a user perform and gradually get addicted to. This action is performed in response to the itch that started it and in anticipation of a reward that satisfies the itch.

Stage 3 — Variable Reward

User action is usually driven by a need to receive rewards (small hits of dopamine) that will satisfy the itch. It has been seen that variable rewards (randomized occurrences) work best when you wish to get people to use your product or perform a certain action frequently. The hope of getting a reward makes the user perform the action over and over again like a headless chicken.

Stage 4 — Investment

This is the final stage of the Hook Model where the user makes a small investment (data, time, effort, money, social capital) and thereby now makes an association with the product, increasing the likelihood of the user making another pass through the loop.

How does this affect you?

I’ll use Facebook as an example to explain how this works. Our probability of taking a certain action requires three things: Motivation, Ability and Trigger. Action = M*A*T (all three required)

In this case,

M = Boredom, Social Validation, Gossip.

A = Having the App installed.

T = Notifications.

Part 1 — Getting you to join Facebook

FOMO. Enough said. Also, the legit use cases, of course.

Part 2— Getting you to open Facebook

Even if I don’t want to, it is clear that my probability of taking action (going to Facebook) is extremely high given my ability to take action (literally just clicking the app icon/pressing enter) exists and the trigger, in the form of a random notification drags me to Facebook where I eventually spend 20 odd minutes scrolling through my feed in anticipation of a great post, a friend’s status update or some interesting piece of news (all rewards).

Part 3— Getting you to stay on Facebook

The search for good content (rewards) makes you linger long enough until you find something interesting. Even if you had logged in just to take care of some notification, you’re easily dragged into scrolling through your feed in anticipation for rewards. Variable rewards however, are the best drivers of enagagement. You never know when someone will post/upload something new/interesting and hence you keep coming back for more.

Part 4— Getting you to come back to Facebook

Every time you update your status, upload a picture, add a new friend, you invest in the product and form an association with it. The longer this goes on, the stronger the association. Facebook has the added advantage of network effects, ownership of surrogate products (Instagram and Messenger) and that it’s users have practically their entire lives documented on Facebook.

What are the potential downsides? What are some preventive measures?

This is essentially a tool for manipulation that can be used control people’s behaviors. I don’t feel the need to elaborate the potential for misuse.

I’ll share my experiences of what I feel are the downsides of being hyperconnected through Facebook and why this addiction doesn’t bode well with me.

The most important downside is the amount of time I spend using it, despite not wanting to. It is so easy to log in, that there’s no time to think before clicking the icon/notification or pressing the enter key. This is one reason why I deactivate Facebook during endsems because I have low self-control when I’m bored while studying for an exam and it becomes a terrible distraction. The second is the misrepresentation of daily lives, presence of glorification posts, that portray a false narrative and inspire almost impossible, fictional lifestyles.

Another good way to have more control is to disable all app notifications. You decide when you’ve got time to check Facebook, Messenger or Whatsapp, rather than the app telling you to every few minutes/hours. That decision, when it rests in your hands gives you those extra few seconds to establish a self-checking mechanism and take corrective measures. This is true for every application on your phone that prompts you to take certain action. In a way, by enabling notifications, you are relinquishing your ability to control to the app. A month or so ago, I disabled all notifications on my phone and the results have been promising.

Preventing the action is simple — target M, A, or T.

M — Think over why you use certain products/do certain actions. This is the hardest part to tackle. However, it has a high degree of irreversibility, meaning this can be a permanent solution.

A — Uninstall/deactivate Facebook. Stop engaging in behavior that you don’t want to. Install preventive measures that actively reduce your ability to take that particular action.

T — Disable external triggers like notifications.

If you look closely at any habit-forming products you use, you will find numerous examples of tweaks that companies make, to maximize the time you spend on using their products. I’ll briefly mention some that I’ve observed on Facebook:

i. The removal of sign-out option on their website, essentially means that you’re logged in 24×7. Removal of the login button makes the transition smoother and opening Facebook extremely easy.

ii. While deactivating, it shows you a list of close friends with the message saying “X will miss you”, triggering FOMO on your friends’ activities.

iii. Suggestion for joining groups often come with one liners saying X (chosen strategically based on your engagement) is a part of this group, increasing your motivation to join that particular group and engaging more on Facebook.

I’m in the process of writing a second part to this blog post where I will try to focus on how we can use these tactics to develop positive behaviors and raise questions/provide opinions on the ethics of persuasive design. (Are the designers responsible for their users getting addicted? Are the users responsible for their own addictions?)


  1. Hooked — Nir Eyal is a great book if you wish to understand the Hook Model in greater detail.
  2. If you’re interested in understanding how behavior can be shaped by product design you should definitely read this paper by B.J. Fogg which forms the basis for persuasive design. “ A Behavior Model for Persuasive Design”

3. Image Source —

As usual, comments/criticisms are appreciated!

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