Real-life use of a mobile feedback app on water drinking

At Etmaal voor de Communicatiewetenschap 2018 in Ghent, Belgium, I presented a study in which we attempted to increase sustained use of a mobile app providing digital feedback on water drinking.

The aim of this study was to understand the factors associated with continued use of a behaviour change health app. We looked at the effect of age, gender, motivation, perceived self-efficacy, and expected use – documentary (‘how much water do I drink?’), diagnostic (‘has my water drinking an effect on fatigue?’), behaviour change oriented (‘I want to drink more water’), reward-oriented (comparison to others, badges, etcetera), and ‘fetishized’ (interest in gadgets for their novelty value) – and feedback properties – feedback valence, cooperative feedback, and competitive feedback – on app retention rates. Due to the number of users who abandoned the app, we lacked the statistical power to gauge the impact of the app on behaviour change.

However, this study can shed light on some of the challenges associated with voluntary use of mobile apps to promote behaviour change. The user attrition rate for this app is very high; with 75% of users abandoning the app within one week, which is comparable to retention rates in other domains. Furthermore, it takes a very high initial motivation to start using this app, and an even higher motivation combined with a good fit between user needs and app deliverables to keep on using it long enough for behaviour change to occur.

This result also calls into question the efficacy of feedback message manipulations ‘per se’. Feedback valence, and message framing for cooperation or competition did not affect sustained use. This study supports the notion of ‘lived informatics’, the idea that people will actively select those resources that best support the behavioural change they seek, rather than the notion of ‘persuasive technology’, the idea that technology is capable of driving behavioural change itself.

All materials (data, SPSS syntax, description) are available through the Open Science Framework.

You can download and view a presentation poster for the Water App Study here.

Please cite this work as:

Hermsen, S., & Frost, J. (2018). Lessons from a failed attempt at increasing sustained use of a mobile app providing digital feedback on water drinking. Extended abstract presented at the Etmaal voor de Communicatiewetenschap 2018, Ghent, Belgium. Ghent, Belgium: NeFCA.


6 jaar ago