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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Defence - Erin O'Loughlin, Individualized Program

Contribution of Exergaming Behaviour to Physical Activity: Toward Better Understanding the Role of Motivation

Date & time

Monday, October 28, 2019
9 a.m. – 12 p.m.


This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


7200 Sherbrooke St. W. Room PC 2.135

Wheelchair accessible


When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


Physical activity (PA) is associated with numerous health benefits. Because PA patterns established early in life track into adulthood, it is important that children develop and sustain healthy PA habits. Current guidelines recommend that youth accumulate ≥ 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity PA (MVPA) daily, but most youth do not attain this level. Evaluation of public health interventions that aim to promote PA provide little evidence of sustained positive effects over time. This could relate, at least in part, to interventions lacking a strong conceptual foundation and in particular, to a lack of underpinnings that recognize the central role of motivation in PA. Self-Determination Theory (SDT) posits that sustained PA relates to natural or intrinsic tendencies or motivations to behave in healthy and effective ways. Lack of sustained PA among youth could reflect a scarcity of enjoyable PA options that fit with the sophisticated technetronic expectations of youth today. PA interventions must “keep up with the times,” by acknowledging young peoples’ prevailing interests and by incorporating advancements in technology that heighten interest and motivation for PA.

Exergaming, a type of non-sedentary videogame that requires players to be physically active in order to attain a series of incrementally challenging goals, is increasingly viewed as an enjoyable PA option among today’s “technology-immersed” youth. However, although critical to informing the design, implementation and sustainability of exergaming interventions, evidence on exergaming-related motivation, preferences, intentions and sustainability is lacking. Research in this domain is needed to ascertain whether exergaming interventions can help youth become and remain physically active, and which facets of exergaming hold the most promise in sustaining positive PA change. More specifically, using “gamified augmented reality” such as exergaming could help youth attain recommended PA levels and promote sustainable healthy behaviour, while at the same time contributing to enjoyment of PA. The three studies described in this thesis examine motivation and exergaming in-depth using SDT and its tenants as a theoretical guide and a common theme across studies. Thus, the role of motivation and intentions in exergaming behaviour and how they contribute to PA in the general population of youth is a key contribution of this dissertation.

Study 1, a review of reviews on exergaming, provides background for the next two studies, each of which was conducted in population-based (as opposed to clinical or experimental) settings. Twenty-five reviews spanning 2009 to 2016 were retained, each of which incorporated between 5 and 100 articles. A positive relationship between exergaming and energy expenditure (EE) was well-documented, but whether exergaming increases PA or changes body composition was not established. There is however, evidence that exergaming (i.e., as a non-sedentary use of screens) is a healthy alternative to sedentary behaviour, that it improves cognitive function, that it is an interesting and enjoyable pastime in youth, that it shows promise as a PA option by adding variety and alternative PA forms in health and dietary interventions and finally that it is likely more health-promoting than traditional videogames because of higher EE and possibly improved physical fitness, body composition and cognitive health. However, more research and specifically, longitudinal studies are needed to assess whether exergaming can be sustained to obtain these benefits over time.

Study 2 identified correlates of sustained exergaming. We reported that almost 50% of grade 9 students sustained exergaming for 2-3 years. Study results suggest that in non-clinical settings, exergaming may be a practicable approach to help adolescents maintain PA during adolescence.

Study 3 examined the psychometric properties of a new scale to assess reasons for exergaming (i.e., the Reasons to Exergame (RTEX) scale). This study also examined whether and how the scale relates to the timing, intensity and duration of past-month exergaming. RTEX items were developed in consultation with PA and exergaming experts and using key exergaming constructs including PA, general interest in videogames and enjoyment of exergaming. RTEX was found to be a reliable and valid assessment of reasons to exergame. However, further studies should replicate these initial findings in larger more diverse samples.

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