Using Virtual Agents and Activity Monitors to Autonomously Track and Assess Self-Determined Physical Activity among Young Children: A 6-Week Feasibility Field Study

Academic Article


  • The majority of youth fail to get the recommended amount of physical activity (PA), and there is a precipitous decline in PA among children as they get older. Guided by self-determination theory and social cognitive theory, we designed an interactive, mixed reality PA intervention for 6-10-year-old children. Capitalizing on the features of consumer-grade interactive communication technologies, the intervention features a kiosk-based system that houses a virtual agent programmed to encourage children to set self-determined PA goals. This intervention aims to resolve many practical challenges in designing and administering a personalized, intrinsically motivated PA intervention for this age group. We pilot tested the feasibility of this kiosk across 6 weeks with n = 42 child/parent dyads. The kiosk tracked and logged children's daily PA and engagement with the intervention without having to rely on human reporting, provided tailored evaluation and feedback whenever children requested it, informed parents about their child's PA progress, and employed a virtual agent (a dog) to offer social support to children. The virtual agent prompted users to set PA goals, and as children met these goals over time, their personalized dog became happier, more fit, and better at tricks. Each time a child engaged with the kiosk the system automatically sent a text message to his/her parent with details about the child's PA progress. The current study demonstrated the kiosk's feasibility in the field over 6 weeks, illustrating the potential of using interactive technologies as tools for disseminating self-sufficient, and truly self-determined health interventions for children at scale.
  • Authors

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Hahn L; Rathbun SL; Schmidt MD; Johnsen K; Annesi JJ; Ahn SJ
  • Start Page

  • 471
  • End Page

  • 478
  • Volume

  • 23
  • Issue

  • 7