Attitude, Fitness

Is Your Health App Too Friendly?

Sure, interactive health apps are good for your health, and back and forth communication between wearer and device has been shown to increase likelihood that the wearer will actually follow through with a recommended exercise. That’s the good news. The bad news, from researchers at Penn State and the University of Connecticut, is that health apps that are too friendly can actually discourage follow-through by failing to remind the wearer of important health risks. becoming, in a sense, an enabler of laziness. A Penn State news release reports that researchers at the school recruited 172 undergraduate students and assigned each to one of six versions of a health risk assessment website. The sites were designed to have either low, medium, or high interactivity with either conversational or no conversational tone. When the participants took part in a question and answer session delivered through the website’s instant messaging interface, the low-interactivity site did not display any signs or visual cues that there was an ongoing interaction between the user and the system; The medium-interactivity site visually called out the user’s response in a box titled “Your response.” ; and the high-interactivity system referred to the user’s previous answers by displaying “previously, you mentioned” or “earlier, you reported.”  Websites with more conversational tone added phrases such as “Let’s move onto the next question” and “OK, let’s talk about exercise” during the question and answer session. The study found that when the online tool used short phrases, such as “Mm-hmm” and “Go on” to promote an informal conversational tone, users felt less susceptible to health risks–a bad thing. “This conversational tone may make them warm and fuzzy, but that’s not what you want to do with a health assessment tool,” said Saraswathi Bellur, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Connecticut who worked on the study. “If you want people to stand up and take action, this type of friendly turn-taking softens the effect. However, if the goal of the interaction is to promote a sense of comfort among individuals, the same conversational tone strategy could work well, with the online tool acting like a virtual coach and providing reassurance.”



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