Using Gamification to Promote Adherence in Long-Term Monitoring

14 Nov 2016

The THVP project is taking a challenge of attempting to understand human variability over long time periods in real world settings. One of the critical problems they will face is minimizing attrition of volunteers over the course of long-term data collection. A possible solution to this issue may arise from focusing on the timing and frequency of rewards being provided to volunteers for their participation.

Exercise tracking applications represent an example of technology that has made use of this approach for motivating users.

Recently, exercise tracking applications like Fitocracy and Map My Fitness have incorporated gamification techniques that may promote longer application usage. Both applications use awards to reward achievements and milestones. Fitocracy, for example, has developed a point system that rewards the quantity/intensity of specific exercises. Similarly, Map My Fitness has developed an approach to identify specific courses (either machine or human determined) that serve as virtual race courses for individuals using the app. Individuals that run through the start and finish line of the course can be automatically entered into virtual "a race" for a personal best time or against anyone completing the course.

The underlying challenge for THVP will be to identify how different forms of reward (e.g., points, social recognition) on different schedules affect the use of data-collection applications for different individual users. By viewing application usage behavior as the output of a decision-making process whereby a person—either consciously or not—weighs the costs and benefits of use, researchers may be able to draw on the many successful models and theories that have been described through the highly interdisciplinary study of value-based decision making.

For example, one can imagine a user’s decision to use an application as fundamentally similar to the decision of a foraging predator to either attack or ignore prey: Both user and predator are confronted with the opportunity to engage in a behavior for some reward received after some degree of engagement that necessarily prevents engagement in other mutually exclusive behaviors. This formulation allows one to analyze a user’s behavior in terms of the popular prey model from optimal foraging theory (CITE), which implies that application usage is a function of the associated opportunity cost (i.e., the benefits of all the behaviors one could engage in instead of application usage). If correct, this view suggests that attrition mitigation strategies will be successful to the extent that they manipulate the relative standing of the value of application use as compared to other possible behaviors. For example, it may be possible to increase usage by providing easy access to the application particularly at times when the other activities a person might engage in are relatively less valuable or more costly.

Importantly, the model that best describes a person’s response to rewards may change over time (e.g., adaptation to a particular reward) or in a different context (e.g., exercising vs. dieting). Therefore, it is likely that part of the solution to understanding and mitigating attrition will involve flexible model fitting and/or model selection that allows for variability both between and within individuals and produces individually tailored reward strategies.