Most of us need some type of motivation to hit the gym on a regular basis.
New research has revealed that the best motivator to exercise harder and faster may not be an upcoming High School reunion, a pair of pants purchased in a smaller size, or that expensive personal trainer you hired.
Instead, it may be you.
You and Avatar Technology
An avatar is a computer user’s representation of his or her self online.
You may already be familiar with the concept: there are plenty of websites where digital beings direct you around the sites. There are also video games that encourage you to create a digital you to play online and interact with other gamers.
More recently, Stanford University has utilized Avatar technology for a very different and much healthier means.
Doctoral candidate Jesse Fox led a study to determine the impact that Avatars could have on the duration and intensity of one’s workouts.
To test her theories, she composed a test pool of over 80 people and separated them into 3 groups.
Avatars were developed for 2 of the 3 groups – participants submitted photos of themselves so that their Avatars looked as identical as possible.
During the tests, all groups wore virtual reality helmets. Members of the first group watched an Avatar of themselves hanging out, reading, and doing other non-physical activities.
Members of the second group watched Avatars working out, but those Avatars did not resemble the study’s participants.
The third group watched their personal identical Avatars running on treadmills.
After viewing their digital counterparts, the participants were sent home. Jesse Fox and other researchers phoned them a day later to find out the level of physical activity they had engaged in after leaving the lab.
Turns out that members of group three (the identical avatar group) worked out a full hour longer than other participants.
By now, you might be asking yourself, if the study was checking to see if Avatars help people to work out longer, why was the second group (those who had watched unfamiliar Avatars work out) not as motivated to work out as long as the third (who had seen their own Avatars running)?
The Key is Seeing Yourself in Action
Previous research in psychology, especially sports psychology, has determined that if you visualize yourself completing a task, you may be not only more eager to try the task in real life, but you may be more successful at it as well.
The same psychology is in play here, but more tangible evidence (the Avatar) takes this one step further.
Being able to see the Avatar moving may jumpstart your real self’s motivation to exercise, as you aspire to imitate your digital self.
Weirder and even more interesting, it does not take an action for the Avatar’s image to have an effect. When people watched their still, non-moving Avatars becoming thinner or heavier, they still exercised significantly more than when it was an unfamiliar Avatar.
This bolsters the weird phenomenon that is really depends on who the Avatar is that the participants are watching. If the Avatar is not you, it does not matter what it is doing. It has little effect on you.
The Brain and Self-Image
This study is interesting for a lot of reasons, but for me it is the tie in with the brain and self image that is most fascinating.
Over a year ago, I blogged about some really interesting research involving hypnosis and paralysis: http://exploringthemind.com/decisions-and-actions-who-is-in-control/.
There is a part of the brain called the precuneus. The precuneus is involved in mental imagery and especially in making representations of self (it is heavily involved in creating your self-image).
Various studies have demonstrated that representations of self can guide behavior (this is part of how hypnosis works). You can see it in the brain with an fMRI.
It would be really interesting to see what would happen if they were to do brain scans of the group using Avatars, versus not using Avatars to see if this part of the brain was more activated in the Avatar group.
Obviously, there needs to be a lot more research done in this direction and I personally can’t wait. Tell me what kind of research you would like to see done using Avatar technology.