Using virtual pets to increase fruit and vegetable consumption in children

Ahn, Sun Joo (Grace), Kyle Johnsen, James Moore, Scott Brown, Melanie Biersmith, Catherine Ball (2016). Using virtual pets to increase fruit and vegetable consumption in children: A technology-assisted social cognitive theory approach. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 19(2), 86-92.

Abstract: A virtual pet in the form of a mid-sized dog was developed based on the framework of social cognitive theory and tested as a vehicle for promoting fruit and vegetable (F&V) consumption in children. Three groups of children (N = 68) between the ages of 7-13 were studied: baseline (no treatment), computer only, and virtual dog. Children in the virtual dog condition interacted with the virtual dog for three days, setting F&V consumption goals and receiving evaluation and reinforcement based on whether they met or did not meet their self-set goals. Children vicariously experienced future health outcomes of F&V consumption by seeing, hearing, and feeling their virtual dog’s physical and mental health improve or deteriorate based on their F&V consumption in the physical world. Children in the computer only condition interacted with a computer system that presented equivalent features, but without the virtual dog. Children in the baseline condition did not receive any experimental treatment. Results indicated that children in the virtual dog condition chose to be served significantly more F&V than those in the computer only or baseline conditions. However, children in the virtual dog condition were unable to consume significantly more F&V than those in the computer only condition, although children in those two conditions consumed more F&V than the baseline condition. Food preferences did not differ significantly across the three conditions before and after the experimental treatments. Theoretical and practical potentials of using a virtual pet to systematically promote F&V consumption in children are discussed.

Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn 

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