Setting Physical Activity Goals with a Virtual Coach: Vicarious Experiences, Personalization and Acceptance

N. Albers*, B. Hizli, Bouke Scheltinga, Eline Meijer, W.P. Brinkman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Goal-setting is often used in eHealth applications for behavior change as it motivates and helps to stay focused on a desired outcome. However, for goals to be effective, they need to meet criteria such as being specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound (SMART). Moreover, people need to be confident to reach their goal. We thus created a goal-setting dialog in which the virtual coach Jody guided people in setting SMART goals. Thereby, Jody provided personalized vicarious experiences by showing examples from other people who reached a goal to increase people’s confidence. These experiences were personalized, as it is helpful to observe a relatable other succeed. Data from an online study with a between-subjects with pre-post measurement design (n=39 participants) provide credible support that personalized experiences are seen as more motivating than generic ones. Motivational factors for participants included information about the goal, path to the goal, and the person who accomplished a goal, as well as the mere fact that a goal was reached. Participants also had a positive attitude toward Jody. We see these results as an indication that people are positive toward using a goal-setting dialog with a virtual coach in eHealth applications for behavior change. Moreover, contrary to hypothesized, our observed data give credible support that participants’ self-efficacy was lower after the dialog than before. These results warrant further research on how such dialogs affect self-efficacy, especially whether these lower post-measurements of self-efficacy are associated with people’s more realistic assessment of their abilities.
Original languageEnglish
Article number15
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Medical Systems
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Goal-setting
  • Physical activity
  • Behavior change
  • Conversational agent
  • Self-efficacy
  • Motivation


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