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Gamification, Health Wearables and Activity


Health wearables in combination with gamification enable interventions that have the potential to increase physical activity—a key determinant of health. However, the extant literature does not provide conclusive evidence on the benefits of gamification and there are persistent concerns that competition-based gamification approaches will only benefit those who are highly active at the expense of those who are sedentary.

In this presentation, Zia Hydari will present his research, investigating gamification, health wearables, and healthy activity. Using a unique dataset of Fitbit wearable users, some of whom participate in a leaderboard, we find that leaderboards lead to a≈370 (3.5%) step increase in the users’ daily physical activity. However, we find that the benefits of leaderboards are highly heterogeneous. Surprisingly, we find that those who were highly active prior to adoption are hurt by leaderboards and walk≈630 fewer steps daily post-adoption (a 5% relative decrease).

In contrast, those who were sedentary prior to adoption benefited substantially from leaderboards and walked an additional≈1,300 steps daily after adoption (a 15% relative increase). We find that these effects emerge because sedentary individuals benefit even when leaderboards are small and when they do not rank first on them. In contrast, highly active individuals are harmed by smaller leaderboards and only see the benefit when they rank highly on large leaderboards. We posit that this unexpected divergence in effects could be due to the underappreciated potential of non-competition dynamics (e.g., changes in expectations for exercise) to benefit sedentary users, but harm more active ones.

What you’ll learn

  • Predictive & Causal Analysis by learning from data
  • Problems of Causal Inference and how do we do causal inference
  • What are health wearables
  • Fitbit Leaderboard
Data Science Dojo
Zia Hydari
Zia is an assistant professor in the information systems and technology management area at the Katz Graduate School of Business, University of Pittsburgh. In addition to teaching MBA students, he studies the effect of technology on individuals, organizations, and businesses, esp., in the healthcare sector. Zia received a B. Engg. in Computer Engineering from NED University (Karachi, Pakistan), an M.S. in Computer Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, an M.S. in Management from MIT, and a Ph.D. in Business Technologies from Carnegie Mellon University. Before starting his Ph.D., Zia worked in software development and product management for approximately 10 years.

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