Motivating healthy behaviors with social and pervasive computing

Mobile sensing and interaction technology, combined with the power of social computing, provide us with new opportunities for understanding and impacting health-oriented behavior change. Along with Co-Principal Investigator Paul Resnick, Mark Newman analyzed how these new technical capabilities can be brought to bear on behavioral monitoring and change across multiple health domains, including both mental and physical health, and both preventative health and chronic disease management.

Start date: 8/21/2009
End date: 8/31/2012

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The focus of the project was to create an open technical platform for behavioral change that could be adapted to new purposes as they arise. This project was grounded primarily in human-computer interaction—principled approaches to building computer-based interventions that lead to positive health outcomes.

The first phase of this project involved initial investigations into the “landscape” of social websites that are aimed at helping people implement healthy behavior change. Through these investigations, researchers gained greater clarity about the potential benefits and challenges of using social networking technology to implement health interventions. The second phase focused on implementing and studying wellness interventions using social computing capabilities, with a particular focus on promoting exercise among chronically ill individuals through socially-motivated walking programs. 

Steps, a Facebook App that allows users to capture and share their pedometer-based step counts with other users of the application as well as other Facebook contacts, was used as the baseline platform. Variations of the basic Steps functionality were used in order to explore the impacts of different design decisions on the “stickiness” of the intervention as well as on the behavioral outcomes. The Steps app was developed by the project team in collaboration with Dr. Caroline Richardson at U-M, who is a prominent researcher in the area of promoting physical activity among chronically ill patients through walking programs.


A Framework for Motivating Healthy Behaviors with Social and Pervasive Computing, Intel Corporation: $167,243


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