In an age of increased obesity and obsession with exercise, software companies have created exercise video games that engage users both mentally and physically. Mixed reviews about the effectiveness of such exergames stem from several components: the perceived task demands during a game, the reward given by the game, and the user’s Exercise Self-Efficacy (ESE, individuals’ confidence in performing exercise tasks). Cornick & Blascovich (2017) explore these components in their study to find exercise and physiological reactions and, in turn, effective motivations in exergames.
The experiment included 89 female undergraduate students who were first evaluated based on the ESE scale. Next, they were randomly assigned to either a high task demand condition in which their avatar weight remained constant, or a low task demand condition in which their avatar lost weight. Participants exercised on a stationary bike while absorbed in a virtual environment. Both groups were informed that their avatar would lose weight if they biked fast enough, when in reality, only half of their avatars could.
Participants’ physiological responses including heart rate, stroke volume, cardiac output, pre-ejection period, and blood pressure were all measured concurrently, continuously, and noninvasively with a BIOPAC MP System while biking. Cardiac performance was measured with an Impedance Cardiograph (ICG) and NIBP100D. AcqKnowledge software was used to distinguish participant challenge and threat states. One week following the study, participants reported how much they exercised in the last week.
The surprising results revealed that participants with high ESE had a high threat response and performed a modest amount of cardiac work, regardless of task demands. Participants with low ESE were extremely influenced by exergame task demands. When presented with a slimming avatar, they had the highest levels of a threat response, and the highest cardiac workload. When presented with a constant avatar, they had a challenge response and low levels of cardiac workload. As a result, it is conclusive that female self-perception has a significant influence on physiological response when body dissatisfaction is high. Exergames must include options that tailor to each individual based on their ESE as well as their preference of performance tracking during exercise.