Using Technologies to Promote Health Behaviors

One of my former classmates from grad school at Stanford wants me to co-write a chapter on the health-related behavioral issues caused by new technologies -- how technologies have become effective and efficient forms of entertainment and fun, but have also reduced our motivation to engage in healthy behaviors, such as exercising. I have a tough time saying no to working with smart people on exciting ideas (so we're now working on this project). and i'm optimistic that we can take the principles that have made these technologies engaging and "reincorporate" them into new technologies to create engaging tools for promoting health behavior change.

For example, for most people, their work used to be their form of exercise. Who needed gyms? When work involved manual labor, we were working and exercising at the same time. Voltair's Candide wrote that "work keeps at bay three great evils: boredom, vice, and need." I think it also used to keep at bay wanting to sit on the couch all day playing video games and watching sports (although i'm looking forward to more great NBA finals this week!). During recent decades, technology development has not only improved efficiency and reduced our need to engage in the manual labor that used to be our exercise, but the creation of televisions, computers, and smartphones has allowed us to get our entertainment without having to move.

The good thing about these changes is that technology developers (especially game developers) are more interested in how to engage people and change behavior then ever before. Funding is spent on researching how to get people to click on buttons to download applications, how to incentivize them to keep using apps, and how to get people to invite their friends to participate. This research is all based on older psychology and behavior change principles and we're learning how to use these technologies to increase entertainment and engagement. In the very near future, I'm optimistic and confident that developers and entrepreneurs will soon address the market for health behavior change by incorporating these principles into health behavioral technologies to improve health and well being.

Sean Young PhD

Sean Young, PhD, MS is the Executive Director of the UCLA Center for Digital Behavior. I'm a scientist, innovator, and UCLA medical school professor. I study the science behind human digital behavior (see for more info about this field of research).I also assemble technology teams and solutions to improve UCLA Family Medicine patient care. For more info or to contact me: