Women Respond Positively to Avatars For Weight Control Behavior

Visualizing appears to be key in early stages of study

For dieters who want to achieve their goals, there may now be a new weapon: An Avatar. No, it is not a ploy to promote an upcoming James Cameron movie, but instead a psychological behavior change that occurs among individuals when they have a computer-generated character. The research looking into the phenomenon comes from a recently published study stemming from the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology.

“This pilot study showed that you don’t have to be a gamer to use virtual reality to learn some important skills for weight loss,” said lead author, Melissa Napolitano, an associate professor of prevention and community health at George Washington University, in a news release.

The study looked at 128 women who were initially surveyed for a pilot study. Of those initial subjects, 88% responded with interest when asked about using a virtual reality-based weight loss program. Of those women, eight were chosen to take on the second phase of the study.

Each woman was asked to participate once per week for four weeks. Each woman watched a 15-minute dietician-narrated video of avatar going through the motions of weight-loss habits. Such practices were things as simple as portion control and exercise.

The women were not asked to manipulate the avatars themselves, but they did control the physical appearance of the avatars.

“Many of the study participants thought that watching an avatar could help them visualize and then put in place healthy behavior, such as taking a walk every day or picking healthy options when food shopping. And in fact, theory and research tells us that modeling or seeing the steps one needs to take in order to achieve a desired goal makes behavioral change easier to accomplish,” the news release stated.

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