Rilla Khaled

Rilla has recently secured a research position at Copenhagen University looking at the development of persuasive technology (PT) - interactive technology designed to change people's attitudes or behaviours. Applications include health, sustainability and education.

Rilla has found that persuasive technologies, such as educational video games, are more effective at changing people's attitudes or behaviours when they are adapted to a specific cultural audience.

Her research included developing two versions of a video game titled Smoke? which promoted smoking cessation - one aimed at a Māori audience and the other at New Zealand Europeans. Evaluations with high school and university students from the greater Wellington region revealed that all players preferred the elements of the game designed specifically for their culture, and that these versions increased their anti-smoking attitudes more than the culturally-different game versions. Her findings have consequences for how technologies encouraging various kinds of behaviour change should be designed.

"The kinds of attitudes people hold and the behaviours they exhibit are influenced by culture, so cultural beliefs play a large role in persuasion," says Rilla. "Our first task was to establish a set of effective, culturally-relevant persuasive technology strategies, mostly for a collectivist audience. Based on this we were able to develop two versions of our video game."

Rilla, pictured here with her virtual creation MC from Smoke?, came to Victoria from Wellington Girls' College with no prior knowledge or experience of software engineering, aside from some minor encounters with JavaScript. Four years later, armed with an Honours degree, she embarked on her PhD.

"My background in software engineering has been pivotal in my research. Having the skills to develop a software application from start to finish has given me a special insight into the design process of PT development. I might have an idea for a cool little tool that might work as a Flash game, or a cellphone application, and I know that I can single-handedly knock together a little prototype to demonstrate my ideas."