“We know that people tend to show more effort during exercise when there are other partners involved because their performance hinges on how the entire team does,” said Deborah Feltz, a professor at Michigan State University.
The fact that a non-human partner can have a similar effect is encouraging, she added.
For the study, the researcher focused on the Köhler Motivation Effect, a phenomenon that explains why people, who may not be adept exercisers themselves, perform better with a moderately better partner or team as opposed to working out alone.
“Unlike many of the current game designs out there, these results could allow developers to create exercise platforms that incorporate team or partner dynamics that are based on science,” said Feltz.
Using “CyBud-X”, an exercise game specifically developed for the study, 120 college-aged participants were given five different isometric plank exercises to do with one of three same-sex partner choices.
Along with a human partner option, two software-generated buddies were used – one representing what looked to be a nearly human partner and another that looked animated.
The results showed that a significant motivational gain was observed in all partner conditions.
“Even though participants paired with a human partner held their planks, on average, one minute and 20 seconds longer than those with no partner, those paired with one of the software-generated buddies still held out, on average, 33 seconds longer,” Feltz contended.
The study appeared in the Games for Health Journal.