Could watching a digital version of yourself on a treadmill encourage you to change your behavior?
- Watching avatars that resemble ourselves could influence our behavior.
- Test subjects exercised nearly an hour longer after watching avatars of themselves run on a treadmill.
- The research opens the door for other therapeutic uses for virtual worlds.
If seeing is believing, could watching a digitized version of yourself running on a treadmill drive you to get in shape? Watching a self-resembling avatar in action turns out to be an effective motivational technique to start exercising, according to a Stanford University research project.
Participants who watched digital versions of themselves run on a treadmill ended up exercising nearly an hour longer than those who watched their avatars hang out or viewed avatars of other people exercising.
"We're definitely surprised that the manipulation worked," said Stanford doctoral student Jesse Fox, who oversaw the studies. "I was very fascinated."
Fox, who describes herself as a social scientist who didn't even own a computer, was curious how digital technologies could impact health and other behaviors. In three studies, each of which had about 80 participants, she found that virtual representations are a powerful motivation tool.