A cyber buddy might just give exercise enthusiasts -- and those who are less than "enthused" -- the extra nudge they need during a workout, new research suggests.
The study, which appears in the Games for Health Journal, is the first to indicate that although a human partner is still a better motivator during exercise, a software-generated partner also can be effective.
"We wanted to demonstrate that something that isn't real can still motivate people to give greater effort while exercising than if they had to do it by themselves," says Deborah Feltz, a professor in Michigan State University's kinesiology department who led the study with co-investigator Brian Winn, associate professor in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences.
The implications from the research also could open the door for software and video game companies to create cyber buddy programs based on sport psychology.
"Unlike many of the current game designs out there, these results could allow developers to create exercise platforms that incorporate team or partner dynamics that are based on science," says Feltz.
Using "CyBud-X," an exercise game specifically developed for Feltz's research, 120 college-aged participants were given five different isometric plank exercises to do with one of three same-sex partner choices.
Along with a human partner option, two software-generated buddies were used -- one representing what looked to be a nearly human partner and another that looked animated. The participant and partner image were then projected onto a screen via a web camera while exercising.
The results showed that a significant motivational gain was observed in all partner conditions.
"Even though participants paired with a human partner held their planks, on average, one minute and 20 seconds longer than those with no partner, those paired with one of the software-generated buddies still held out, on average, 33 seconds longer," says Feltz.