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Fitness tracker: a real asset in sports?

Fitness tracker: a real asset in sports?


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Influence of pedometer on sports motivation

Manufacturers of fitness trackers usually promise their customers support for optimal training. The small devices can count steps or calculate calorie consumption. But what do such devices really bring? Can they also influence sports motivation? Researchers from Chemnitz and Lübeck have now investigated this.

Regular exercise keeps you healthy

Regular exercise protects against numerous diseases and can help you lose weight. Health experts recommend taking at least 10,000 steps a day. Some people use pedometer to check how much they are moving. In any case, fitness trackers are being used more and more in sports these days. However, some experts believe that such devices measure a lot of crap. But can they at least influence sports motivation. Researchers from the Technical University (TU) in Chemnitz and the University of Lübeck have now investigated this question.

Can activity trackers create a kind of dependency?

If you use Activity Tracker, you may know the following situation: You go your usual way to work, want to take the stairs there and collect a few additional steps, and then realize that you forgot your tracker at home.

What now? Still take the stairs, although the additional steps are not recorded by the tracker? Or the elevator after all, because the additional steps are not booked electronically?

Christiane Attig from Chemnitz University of Technology and Prof. Dr. Thomas Franke from the University of Lübeck.

They looked into the question of whether activity trackers can create a kind of dependency, which can be shown, for example, if you forget the tracker.

The researchers also examined whether this dependency is more pronounced for certain users than for others.

The results were published in the "International Journal of Human-Computer Studies".

Lost fun in the movement

"The study was inspired by my own experiences - I had worn an activity tracker for a long time and increasingly noticed how I lost the fun of the movement and instead only carried out certain activities so that I could see a good result on my tracker," reports Christiane Attig in a message.

This behavior reminded the scientist of a known effect from social psychology:

"The corruption effect means that a primary intrinsic motivation for a job can be reduced by external rewards."

In the case of tracker use, this means: "If the positive tracker feedback also rewards me for a sporting activity that I enjoy, it can result in me feeling the activity more as work and consequently having less fun" , says Attig.

"If the tracker’s reward is lost, an activity reduction can result."

Loss of motivation due to activity tracker?

In order to investigate whether motivation losses through activity trackers actually occur in everyday use, the two experts designed an online study in which the respondents were asked to put themselves in situations like the ones described above and to assess whether they would continue would decide active behavior or a reduction in activity.

In addition to this effect of a dependency on the behavioral level, possible consequences in the emotional or cognitive area were also recorded.

“It was also conceivable for us that thoughts always revolve around whether the tracker is recording the activity correctly or that one is disappointed at the end of the day if the tracker feedback does not meet expectations,” explains Franke.

Dependency effect confirmed

The results of the study suggest that tracker users are well aware of the dependency effect from their everyday life - but not the majority of users.

About 18 percent of respondents said they tend to be less active when they are not wearing their trackers. Disappointment with negative tracker feedback and a strong mental preoccupation with the tracker stated that around 48 percent of the respondents were known.

“Using the tracker does not have to have a negative impact on the motivation to move actively. Loss of motivation is more likely, however, if one feels less fun with the sport anyway, does sport out of extrinsic motivation - for example, to lose weight or to get fitter - and if one does not use the tracker out of pure interest in the data, "said Franke.

The researchers conclude that the loss of motivation does not necessarily have to be due to the corruption effect, but that it can be a conceivable mechanism for the waning desire to exercise.

Activity for its own sake

And what does this mean for users and manufacturers of activity trackers?

"If you realize that you may be thinking a little too often whether the tracker has tracked all the steps, or think that sporting activities were in vain if they were not recorded correctly, it could help to realize that you ultimately always carry out the activities for yourself, ”explains Attig.

Accordingly, trackers should be designed in such a way that the feedback strengthens the autonomy of the users. You should also convey the fun of movement regardless of the number of steps on the display.

In a follow-up study, the two psychologists want to investigate whether the addiction effect could also lead to users no longer using their activity tracker at all.

“Trackers have great potential to motivate people to exercise more daily, for example to prevent overweight and cardiovascular diseases. In order to optimally exploit this potential, it is important to understand the psychological effects that activity trackers can have - positive and negative, ”says Attig.

The question of whether stairs or not will then no longer be so difficult to answer. (ad)

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