Dec 02, 2009
Digital Games for Physical, Cognitive and Behavioral Health
(From the press release)
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) announced more than $1.85 million in grants for research that will offer unprecedented insight into how digital games can improve players’ health behaviors and outcomes. With funding from RWJF’s Health Games Research national program, nine research teams across the country will conduct extensive studies to discover, for example, how the popular dance pad video game Dance Dance Revolution might help Parkinson’s patients reduce the risk of falling, how Wii Active might be most effectively implemented in high schools to help overweight students lose weight, how a mobile phone game with a breath interface might help smokers quit or reduce their tobacco use, or how facial recognition games might be designed to help people with autism learn to identify others’ emotions.
Health Games Research is supported by an $8.25 million grant from RWJF’s Pioneer Portfolio, which funds innovative projects that may lead to breakthrough improvements in the future of health and health care. The national program, which conducts, supports, and disseminates research to improve the quality and impact of health games, is headquartered at the University of California, Santa Barbara. It is directed by Debra Lieberman, Ph.D., communication researcher in the university’s Institute for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Research and a leading expert in the research and design of interactive media for learning and health behavior change. The grants were awarded under the program’s second funding round to strengthen the evidence base in this emerging field.
“Digital games are interactive and experiential, and so they can engage people in powerful ways to enhance learning and health behavior change, especially when they are designed on the basis of well-researched strategies,” said Lieberman. “The studies funded by Health Games Research will provide cutting-edge, evidence-based strategies that designers will be able to use in the future to make their health games more effective.”
The nine research teams, chosen from among 185 proposals, each have been awarded between $100,000 and $300,000 to lead one- to two-year studies of digital games that engage players in physical activity and/or motivate them to improve how they take care of themselves through healthy changes in lifestyle; prevention behaviors; cognitive, social or physical skills; chronic disease self-management; and/or adherence to a medical treatment plan. Studies will focus on diverse population groups that vary by race and ethnicity, health status, income level, and game-play setting, with age groups ranging from elementary school children to 80-year-olds. The research teams will study participants’ responses to health games played on a variety of platforms, such as video game consoles, computers, mobile phones and robots.
“The pace of growth and innovation in digital games is incredible, and we see tremendous potential to design them to help people stay healthy or manage chronic conditions like diabetes or Parkinson’s disease. However, we need to know more about what works and what does not — and why,” said Paul Tarini, team director for RWJF’s Pioneer Portfolio. “Health Games Research is a major investment to build a research base for this dynamic young field. Further, the insights and ideas that flow from this work will help us continue to expand our imagination of what is possible in this arena.”
The nine grant recipients are listed here