A woman takes a break from exercising to check her performance on her wearable tracking device.

Research from WBS shows tech developers must adapt their exercising trackingsoftware for different users to avoid discouraging them.

  • Less active users may be discouraged by declining performance.

  • They may also become complacent if their progress outperforms competitors.

  • Active users are more likely to be motivated by their own progress.

  • WBS research shows developers must adapt software for different users.

Fitness monitors and apps that turn exercise into a ‘competitive game’ by tracking performance may deter inactive users from exercising, research shows.

Wearable technology – such as Fitbits and Apple Watches – routinely allow users to compete with friends, strangers, and themselves to encourage them to exercise.

However, a study from Warwick Business School and the National University of Singapore found that showing ‘inactive’ users how their performance had deteriorated could discourage them from exercising.

Lead author Yang Yang, Assistant Professor of Information Systems at Warwick Business School, said: “Wearable tech and mobile apps that adopt a competitive, game-like approach are used increasingly to nudge people towards healthier behaviour.

“But our findings indicate that in some circumstances, they can have the opposite effect.

“It is much easier for inactive individuals to forgo exercise, so designers need to boost their confidence by comparing them to participants who are inferior to them.”

The paper, Compete with me? The impact of online gamified competition on exercise behaviour, was published in the Journal of the Association for Information Systems.

It found that inactive users were more likely to increase the distance they walked or ran after being shown how their performance had progressed compared to their peers.

However, they were also more likely to reduce the amount of exercise they did if they were notified that their ranking had improved significantly, possibly because they were more easily satisfied and more likely to become complacent if they believed they had progressed rapidly.

Active and moderate exercisers were more likely to be motivated by improvements in their own performance and show be prompted to track their progress.

The most active users were encouraged by a strong sense of rivalry with an evenly matched opponent. Inactive users who completed lower levels of exercise were less likely to be motivated by personal rivalry, perhaps because they felt less confident in their ability to outperform others and therefore did not derive the same level of “enjoyment and arousal” from direct competition.

Dr Yang said: “Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, it is critical for developers to consider what motivates different users and provide customised information based on their exercise patterns.”


Further reading

Yang, Y., Yong Goh, K., Hai Teo, H., and Tan, S. L. (2023), Compete With Me? The Impact of Online Gamified Competition on Exercise Behaviour, The Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 24(3), 912-935.