Virtual reality as a wellness influencer? It may seem far-fetched, but Stanford University researchers have discovered that a virtual reality simulation can influence behavior almost immediately.
Using a special joystick called a haptic device, the subjects were able to control the back-and-forth motions of the chainsaw that their virtual selves used to cut down the tree. As they sawed for about three minutes, the haptic device vibrated in their hands to simulate the feeling of the real thing. “We found that virtual reality can change how people behave,” says graduate student Sun Joo Ahn, whose doctoral dissertation outlines the findings. “That’s the big result. When people are in virtual reality and going through the motions of actually cutting down this tree, it might make them feel more personally accountable or responsible for the damage that occurred.”
What if individuals participated in a simulation of active, healthy behaviors in a virtual world – would they participate more often in the real world? Stanford researchers are right on the topic as well. At the Games for Health Conference (May 17-19 Boston) this topic will be discussed in relation to the Wii. At the 201 conference, Club One Island presented some serious insights to this aspect of motivation, engagement, participation and habit change around physical activity participation, primarily for weight loss.
Sitting in front of a computer is now a serious way to improve one’s health. More than one third of U.S. adults, or 72 million people, and 16 percent of U.S. children are obese and obesity-related health care costs totaled an estimated $117 billion in 2000 (Source: Center for Disease Control). Club One Island (www.cluboneisland.com) is a professionally structured program built in a virtual world to reshape the approach with America’s obesity crisis. The early conclusion from pilot program results is that a behavior change program based entirely in a virtual world can generate greater weight loss results than a similar program based in the physical world. Club One Island participants lost an average of more than eight pounds in 12 weeks.
Program Participants and Results
The 60 pilot-program participants for Club One Island were U.S. adults (age 20-70+) with a body mass index (BMI) of 35.17 as measured by health professionals, while the control group had a BMI of 35.70 (note: a person with a BMI of 30 is considered obese according to the CDC). The control group’s program had all the components of the virtual world program, including exercise, nutrition, behavior change and a support group, but just in a different environment. The average weight loss results from the program after 12 weeks and four one-hour sessions per week:
· Club One Island (Virtual World): Loss of 8.08 lbs, 3.88 percent body fat and 1.98 inches from waist
· Control Group (Physical World): Loss of 5.98 lbs, 3.63 percent body fat and 1.92 inches from waist
The participants also completed a survey to determine the impact of Club One Island on whether or not the program worked for them and how it impacted their personal lives. Below are the combined percentages of Somewhat Agree, Agree and Strongly Agree:
· Optimism: 100 percent – I have a greater sense of optimism about managing my weight.
· Control: 100 percent – I feel a greater sense of control.
· Worked Better: 80 percent – The program worked better for me than other things I have tried.
· Communication: 76 percent – I am better able to communicate my needs to my family.
· Positive Change: 71 percent – I have noticed positive change in my relationships.
The Behavior Change Program on Club One Island
Virtual world training is already successful in multiple industries and is currently used to improve skills and increase knowledge for doctors, pilots, soldiers, students and more. Club One Island incorporates:
· Avatar Association: Studies have shown that the body follows the mind and that people incorporate the behavior they see from their avatars on-screen.
· Cognitive Behavioral Theory: Activities and interactions on Club One Island center on reframing how people think about weight loss. Instructors discuss how to change self-talk from negative to positive, instill and acquire positive habits, and identify and overcome individual barriers to personal health.
· Gaming: Club One Island is a fun destination that offers activities that exceed the limits of a physical world. The virtual environment integrates guided play, discovery, point/reward systems and themed rooms that address key issues, such as the Room of Doom. In this room, people are encouraged to combat their emotion-driven eating with a virtual hammer that smashes junk food.
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