Facebook Boosts Fitness Through Positive Social Pressure

Facebook can help motivate fitness seekers to perform better, according to a research study by Derek Foster, Conor Linehan and Shaun Lawson at the U.K. University of Lincoln's Social Computing Research Center.

Fitness gurus often recommend finding a workout partner to stay motivated, and now we’ve unearthed a study showing how Facebook can supply that same type of positive peer pressure.

Researchers at the U.K.’s University of Lincoln gave digital pedometers to ten study participants and asked them all to use a Facebook application called Step Matron.

We’ve been unable to locate Step Matron on Facebook, and have made inquiries about where to find it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the study authors — Derek Foster, Conor Linehan and Shaun Lawson — have the application on hold pending some major licensing deal.

This application infuses walking regiments with some positive social peer pressure. Step Matron includes rankings of performance and the ability to comment on one another’s activity. It motivated the steppers on its own, but was even more effective when combined with automatic feeds from pedometers.

Over the course of 21 days, the pedometers captured the number of steps the ten participants took each day. The devices were rigged so that half of them fed data to the Facebook application for five days in a row, and then the following five days the other half would do it automatically. They participants received an email notifying them of the changeover after those five days. The steppers were all informed up front that the gizmos stored historical data so that researchers could assess the accuracy of self-reporting.

As you can see in the chart above, everyone took more steps during the times when their pedometers were automatically feeding data to the Facebook application.

Now if the pedometer part of this became available in a version that could work on mobile phones, Step Matron could be a huge hit. A couple of Facebook pages turn up when you search for “pedometer,” and numerous apps offer guided workout regimens, but hadn’t seen any that include the same kind of positive social pressure as the one used in the study.

I have a feeling we’re going to see this genre of application become available on at least one major fitness company’s Facebook page. Soon.

Readers, what do you see in the results of this study? Would you want to use social media to improve your fitness?