Using virtual pets to promote physical activity in children

Ahn, Sun Joo (Grace), Kyle Johnsen, Tom Robertson, James Moore, Scott Brown, Amanda Marable, Aryabata Basu (2015). Using virtual pets to promote physical activity in children: An application of the youth physical activity promotion model. Journal of Health Communication, 20(7), 807-815.

Abstract: A virtual pet was developed based on the framework of the youth physical activity promotion model and tested as a vehicle for promoting physical activity in children. Children in the treatment group interacted with the virtual pet for three days, setting physical activity goals and teaching tricks to the virtual pet when their goals were met. The virtual pet became more fit and learned more sophisticated tricks as the children achieved activity goals. Children in the control group interacted with a computer system presenting equivalent features, but without the virtual pet. Physical activity and goal attainment were evaluated using activity monitors. Results indicated that children in the treatment group engaged in 1.09 more hours of daily physical activity (156 percent more) than those in the control group. Physical activity self-efficacy and beliefs served as mediators driving this increase in activity. Children that interacted with the virtual pet also expressed higher intentions than children in the control group to continue physical activity in the future. Theoretical and practical potentials of using a virtual pet to systematically promote physical activity in children are discussed.

Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn 

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