Cyber buddy is better than ‘no buddy’


April 23, 2014
Brain & Behavior, Technology

A Michigan State University researcher is looking to give exercise enthusiasts the extra nudge they need during a workout, and her latest research shows that a cyber buddy can help.

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,” said Deborah Feltz, a University Distinguished Professor in MSU’s kinesiology department who led the study with co-investigator Brian Winn, associate professor in MSU’s 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,” said 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,” said Feltz.

Much of Feltz’s research in this area has focused on the Köhler Motivation Effect, a phenomenon that explains why people, who may not be adept exercisers themselves, perform better with a moderately better partner or team as opposed to working out alone.

Her findings give credence that programs such as “CyBud-X” can make a difference in the way people perform.

“We know that people tend to show more effort during exercise when there are other partners involved because their performance hinges on how the entire team does,” she said. “The fact that a nonhuman partner can have a similar effect is encouraging.” The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health funded the study. Other MSU researchers on the project included Karin Pfeiffer, associate professor in kinesiology, and Norbert Kerr, professor of social science psychology.



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9 Responses to Cyber buddy is better than ‘no buddy’

  1. Elani May 3, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

    This new innovation can have a much bigger impact on people’s health than the inventors could have ever imagined. I agree with the fact that it is much harder to go to the gym alone than with a friend. When exercising with a friend, you feel less exposed an more confident, but it is not always possible to find someone that has the exact same fitness needs as you. People who needs an active lifestyle, for example, obese people, are the ones who have the least confidence to exercise on their own, neither feel comfortable in asking someone to exercise with them. This innovative “Cyber Buddy” is the ideal solution to couch-potatoes’ problems. Their “buddy” is a mouse-click away and there are no eyes to judge your level of fitness. People will be more healthy and their self-esteems will be boosted.

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  2. JJ du Toit (14121728) May 2, 2014 at 1:34 am #

    This sounds like an interesting application that can help a lot of people to live a healthier life. I know what they are talking about when they say it is difficult to exercise on your own; the motivation is just not there. To have someone to compete with and to drive you to always do better and more, is a great motivational factor. A cyber buddy may have the same effect to a certain extent, but it can never replace a human exercise buddy.

    A program on a cellphone or a computer is too simple and easy to stop or remove from the PC or phone – after all, you installed it. To exercise takes a lot of self-discipline, no two ways about it- you have to make a choice to exercise and if you do not push yourself to your limits, you might as well stop wasting your time. So if it helps you to have an application telling you to do your best, then by all means install the application.

    Just remember one thing: an application can never replace interaction with someone else. So do not replace your partner with an app, but go and visit the gym either way.

  3. Ngcobo 13317033 April 28, 2014 at 10:47 am #

    Personally, I find it harder to workout without a partner present to motivate me so I realise how useful a cyber motivator could be. Although the concept is a good one, a computer program could never be as effective as a real person. The results obtained from the study show that having a human partner is much more effective. Even though it is not going to give you the best motivation that you could possibly get, it is a start and is better than nothing. I think a cyber motivator will be most useful for people who want to work out but have no partner to do that with. As good as a cyber motivator can be, I fear that people will become too dependent on it and it will diminish the importance and benefits of human interaction.

  4. Tshiamo Mthembu 14031010 April 26, 2014 at 2:56 pm #

    I think its safe to say that I’m one of many people who see it as a hassle to exercise and interactive video games don’t help or motivate. The cyber buddy is a good idea but it also depends on a person’s state of mind. It takes will power to start working out, let alone completing a session. I honestly believe that in order for some to start exercising they need to push themselves, after all the cyber buddy is a computer program that you can just turn off if you can’t take it anymore.

    Human interaction such as a friend or personal trainer work slightly better because you can’t exactly shut them down. I understand that there are other implication when it come to having a actual human like a friend or personal trainer working out with you, such as; cost and sometimes the need to exercise alone but these are small issues that can be addressed.

    We live in a world where technology makes things easier for us but exercise is not one of those things. You have to be willing to take the first step yourself after all the cyber buddy won’t always be around to hold your hand.

  5. U14004870 Tokelo April 26, 2014 at 7:52 am #

    The idea of a cyber buddy is convenient and also encouraging ,however,I am not certain that this particular type of technology will alter one’s effectiveness in exercising.I profoundly believe that before one can take a challenge that he or she wishes to fulfill,one must have the right mind-set and attitude.Therefore, without a doubt,they will succeed.What worries me is that once a person uses the cyber buddy, will that individual become dependent on the cyber buddy every time he or she wishes to exercise and if so,what will happen to the individual’s progress if the cyber buddy is not present?

  6. Sibusisiwe (14076463) April 24, 2014 at 10:53 pm #

    The computer motivators can help to a certain extent. I, personally, prefer being motivated by someone that has had the experience and the computer motivators, or cyber buddies, can only motivate by choosing the correct words. Exercise can be a very difficult task for some people and usually, a motivator that can relate is needed.

  7. Esmarie (u14002711) April 24, 2014 at 10:24 am #

    This study on a cyber-motivator is interesting but I am not convinced of the outcome that it promises. I cannot imagine that a robot voice could be a true motivator and that generated software would make one go that ‘extra mile’. Although the studies have shown an increase in motivation, I am not convinced of the effectiveness of this new technological training partner. It is going to take more than a programmed buddy to overcome those lazy, defeated thoughts. According to the human nature, people would not turn on the machine, or conversely, they would just turn off the presumably annoying voice when they are exercising. Having a real person to motivate you, will surely increase your effort during exercise, but even with further research and improvement, the effect of having a cyber companion would virtually be on the same level as having nothing to motivate you.

  8. Leandri April 24, 2014 at 7:40 am #

    Speaking from personal experience i can also say that it is much better and more effective to exercise with a partner than to do so without one. This new scientific breakthrough can better the life’s of many people that struggle to make time to exercise with a partner. Because now they have a non-living thing without a schedule that can fit into their daily schedule, so that they can exercise when ever they have time. This invention does have its negative side because it lessons the small amount of human interaction that is left in today’s society. But if we control this new invention from the start a healthy balance can be kept for the human society.

  9. u14022517 April 24, 2014 at 1:58 am #

    Going to the gym alone is always a hassle. No motivation = no extra effort. This new technology could seriously change that. The amount of motivation you have is directly proportional to how great a workout you will receive. A personal trainer can become very expensive and there are times when you just want to be alone. But sometimes these alone times can lead to thoughts of self-doubt and that is where the laziness starts to kick in. It would be great to have someone ( even a software-generated buddy) there at the times that suit you to motivate you to give your ultimate best. Now I can go to the gym at all times of the day, when the exercise-bug bites, without having to wait for friend (aka real person) to go with.

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