Buffed-up avatars deter us from exercising exhausting — ScienceDaily
If you’ve ever played an immersive game using virtual reality (VR) technology, you will be familiar with the concept of customizing an avatar to represent you. Most people design an ambitious, spruced-up version of themselves, but new research from the University of Bath suggests that if the game is for fitness, you should tone down your vanity, as your performance improves when you go up against an avatar, which corresponds better to your authenticity itself.
“Idealized avatars increase desire identification, but appear to negatively affect physical performance,” said Dr. Christof Lutteroth, who headed research at the University’s Department of Computer Science.
The Bath study examines the effects of two types of adaptation (idealized and realistic) in an immersive cycling exergame. The results are presented in an article that won the Best Paper Award from the CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computer Systems and is scheduled to take place in Hawaii next month.
For the study, racing drivers with VR headsets competed against both a generic avatar and an avatar that represented them more precisely. They performed better against their realistic avatar and found the game more motivating. Next, the racers competed against their realistic against an idealized avatar. While they enjoyed playing against their inflated selves, they fared better against their realistic avatar based on performance.
“The game pushed people to their limit for 30 seconds to see how hard they could exert in a short amount of time. When they went up against their realistic avatar, they were 3% faster than their idealized avatar – in other words, We believe that as fitness increases, the gap in exertion would increase as fitness increases. “
Also involved in the study were Professor Eamonn O’Neill from the Department of Computer Science, PhD student Zoe Jeffery, and former students Jordan Koulouris and James Best.
Ms. Jeffery said, “This study is the first of its kind to combine both quantitative and qualitative methods to provide a deeper understanding of the effects of customizing avatars on motivation in virtual reality practice games. It has the potential to do that to influence further research in this area. ” and gave me a much needed boost to my own PhD studies. “
Dr. Lutteroth said one possible explanation for the positive impact of the realistic avatar is a mechanism known as feedforward. This describes the motivation and increase in performance that result from competing with a self-model that you can easily identify with. A generic and idealized self-model is likely to reduce the feedforward effect by reducing self-discovery.
“Our results suggest that exergame designers should definitely consider making realistic avatar customizations to improve gaming experience and performance,” said Dr. Lutteroth.
Explaining the importance of his research, he added, “Many people have difficulty achieving recommended physical activities. 40-65% of those who start exercising drop out within three to six months. Combining exergames with VR has revolutionized the way health interventions create an immersive experience with potential distraction from physical exertion. If we can convince people to stick to their exercise programs through self-identification with their avatar, this is a step in the right direction. “
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