Pediluma: Motivating Physical Activity Through Contextual
Information and Social Influence

Motivating behavior change is a considerable challenge. People find comfort in familiar routines and attitudes, and naturally resist change, even if to their benefit. Computing technology is increasingly being applied in persuasive ways in order to promote behavioral change. Previous efforts have primarily relied on two methods to motivate users: 1) displaying timely and relevant information, 2) and leveraging social influence.

One approach to promoting behavior change is to target the point-of-decision. This is the point when people consult their memories for relevant information, and attempt to make informed choices about how to proceed. Any pertinent information injected into the environment at this moment will be salient. This salience often makes the information highly influential. This strategy has been leveraged in numerous domains, including physical activity, diet, energy conservation, recycling, and water usage. Furthermore, although some recommendations have universal applicability (e.g. consuming less sugary drinks), many systems tailor the information they present to a particular user. Doing so allows the information to be far more relevant, and ultimately more effective.

A second approach to promoting behavioral change is to use social influence. The desire to project a positive image to other people is often at the root of behavioral changes. Technology can amplify this effect by enhancing the communication and interaction between users and the people they interact with. For example, social networking can be used to stimulate competition or facilitate support groups, both of which motivate behavioral change. Additionally, public commitment has been shown to significantly improve the likelihood the associated behavior change will be achieved.

We capitalize and extend on the aforementioned effects by designing a new persuasive technology to support behavior change, specifically in the physical health domain. Lack of physical activity is regarded as a “public health crisis,” leading to a wide range of health problems, including coronary heart disease, type II diabetes, cancer of the colon, and many other ailments. It has been shown that as little as 30 minutes of moderate physical activity four or more days a week can provide substantial health benefits. In particular, walking can be easily incorporated into everyday life and sustained into old age, thus offering the best opportunity to impact personal health.

We developed Pediluma, a shoe accessory designed to encourage opportunistic physical activity. It features a light that brightens the more the wearer walks and slowly dims when the wearer remains stationary. This interaction was purposely simple so as to remain lightweight, both visually and cognitively. Even simple, personal pedometers have been shown to promote walking. Pediluma takes this a step further, attempting to engage people around the wearer to elicit social effects. It should be noted that lights have been previously incorporated into shoes (e.g., UFOS, L.A. Lights). However, this is the first time they have been used to display motivational information. We also draw upon decades of research into the larger field of wearable computers.

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Reference

Lim, B. Y., Shick, A., Harrison, C., and Hudson, S. E. 2011. Pediluma: Motivating Physical Activity Through Contextual Information and Social Influence. In Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Tangible, Embedded, and Embodied Interaction. TEI '11. ACM, New York, NY. 123-180.

© Chris Harrison