Using immersive biking experience to foster positive feelings
Design a behavioral intervention that will engage with and motivate adolescents to exercise more
Explorer, an immersive concept where a user experiences a virtual world while using a stationary bike
Depression is a leading cause of medical disability in the U.S., specifically among adolescents. Depressive disorders in teens increase the risk of interpersonal problems, and psychosocial difficulties that persist for long. Further, adolescents who experience depressive episodes have an increased risk of substance abuse and suicidal behavior.
Previous research has shown depressive symptoms to improve by engaging in physical and social activities associated with frequent pleasant experiences. Prior research has also identified positive effects of increased physical movement as a mental health intervention, specifically on reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Behavioral interventions that just encourage increased physical movement have been less effective, especially when motivation to perform physical activity tapers with time. In this exploratory concept development project, I propose a virtual immersive experience coupled with stationary biking as a shared pathway to frequent positive experiences for adults with depression.
Adolescents with access to stationary bike
How it works
Explorer is a virtual reality (VR) application that engages users to bike in environments of their choice from their home or gymnasium. Explorer includes a timed, gamified training component that allows bikers to unlock environments as they bike more often, while ensuring bikers don’t spend more than 1h biking in a day. The environments include landscapes, famous historical and tourist destinations with sound effects a person would hear in real-world if physically present in the environment. Each environment includes a distance and associated reward points that bikers can use to level up and unlock new environments. In addition, each environment comes with pit-stop locations to allow bikers to cool down or take a break and sip some water.
One Friday morning my boss mentioned interest in pursuing development of an exercise intervention for depression. One topic led to another and my team started brainstorming solutions to learn and intervene on depressive symptoms for older adults! Fast-forward towards end of meeting, one of my team members reminisced being able to bike in her hometown when she was an adolescent.
I would bike everyday when I was in school, this was in a way exercise for me. It was a small town, but it was very vibrant and colorful. Being outdoors and listening to the sounds helped me feel good. I can’t imagine kids being able to bike outdoors now. But they really enjoy and want to bike when we visit a new place for vacation.
Post the meeting; I started to wonder if there could be an intervention that encouraged adolescents to move more indoors, at a time they are comfortable with exercising. Can we create an immersive experience where a user feels like he/she is biking in a small town in Italy (say), while in reality they are actually in their room?
This is when I had to learn UX and UI design for VR (new skills, yay!)