Social media may ‘nudge’ users to health

  • 28 May 2009

A new research project has been launched using mobile phones to assess whether people can be ‘nudged’ into leading healthier lifestyles.

The £1m ‘Charm’ Project will use mobile technology to measure how active participants are and then compare them to their peers. The project will include looking at how friends influence each other using facebook.

Data will be collected from sensors including accelerometers in smart phones and PDAs, and from GPS devices, with data presented back to participants on their mobile phone, possibly as flowers in a garden.

The study is based on the concept that telling people how their behaviour ranks against their peers is the best way of getting them to chose to act differently.

Dr Ruth Rettie, head of the Charm Project at Kingston University, said: “It’s about influencing behaviours by telling people what others do. There’s quite a lot of evidence that we can influence, not just by nudging, but by informing them about social norms.”

The project, which is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, is led by Kingston University working together with University of West England, Bristol, and Swansea University and will begin in September.

The first part of the study, will involve developing the application for the mobile phones and any hardware that needs to be added to monitor participants while moving from place to place.

Dr Parisa Eslambolchilar, a lecturer in human computer interaction at the University of Swansea who is developing the phone application, said that 200 participants would be involved in the project.

She told E-Health Insider: “Data from accelerometers in smartphones and PDAs will be analysed to assess exercise patterns and GPS will be used for cyclists. The application will not only tell participants about there weekly or monthly progress but also how they are comparing to everyone else.”

Although the method of feedback has not yet been determined, it is likely that it will be shown as a graphical display on the phone with individuals representing flowers in a garden. The more active participants are the taller they will grow over the investigation.

Eslambolchilar continued: “No research on this scale has been carried out before and very few have compared behaviour to others it has always been about more personal behaviour.

The project also has two other categories, with a further 600 participants. They will involve monitoring the use of household energy and also using Facebook to assess how friends influence each other to see what it takes to nudge people to move towards a sustainable way of life.

Eslambolchilar added: “The most important outcome of this will be to see whether we can link the results to national campaigns, such as obesity and heart disease campaigns. If we can change behaviours and attitudes and get people to improve their lifestyle it will be really rewarding.”



Charm Project

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

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