Playing with food (knowledge) while measuring EEG – PRECIOUS food knowledge study

Thinking of your last meal can you describe how many calories, how much fiber or fat that include?

A growing amount of studies indicate a strong relationship between dietary practices, food intake, and health. The literature supports the view that unhealthy nutrition coupled with a sedentary life style is associated with several chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes (T2D) and cardiovascular pathologies. Food intake depends on a multitude of psychosocial and cultural factors, such as knowledge, price, convenience, taste, palatability, emotions, and the environment. Poorer diets are also more likely among less-educated and lower-income populations. Although the correlation between nutrition knowledge and dietary practices is not yet fully understood, a few studies suggest that poor food intake might be the result of inadequate or misleading nutrition knowledge. The research also shows that a growing amount of individuals struggle to make healthful decisions, which in turn impacts the individuals’ well-being.

In an effort to reduce the impact of nutrition deficits on the individual well-being, education is essential. Traditional lecture-based instructions, print material, and brochure are among the primary means for delivering information. For example, information and recommendations aiming to help people to improve their diets are regularly published. Despite these increased efforts, the outlook is not promising. According to the statistics, more than 50% of the world’s population is expected to be overweight in the next 20 years. Traditional interventions often fail to attract, engage, and motivate the target audience, which in turn impacts the likelihood of understanding, processing, recalling, and retaining the delivered information. Individual lack of interest in the topic, coupled with the intrinsic incapability of these interventions to boost the individual motivation for learning, are common reasons behind insufficient results.

New technologies offer new opportunities for delivering nutrition knowledge interventions. In this regard, gamification referring to the use of game elements in non-game contexts, appears to be a promising option. Under the concept of gamification, serious games have become increasingly popular. Serious games or games for learning (GFL) are computer games that use the fun component of traditional computer games as a tool for increasing the individual motivation for learning and acquiring knowledge. For example, by using traditional game elements, such as points, badges, levels, and challenges, serious games increase the player’s engagement with the game and motivation, which are then used as a tool for promoting education. In other words, while computer games aim to entertain the player, serious games use the entertainment component as a tool for providing knowledge, which in turn might affect the individual’s behavior. Serious games have been applied successfully in domains, such as math, physical exercise, and diet or stress management. By placing the individual in the center of the action and by providing a fun and entertaining experience, serious games and their innovative approach have shown to be a useful, effective, and powerful tool for increasing the player’s motivation to acquire new knowledge, which in turn impacts the individual behavior (Hays, 2005).

We carried out a study examining whether a serious game can be used to enhance the individual food knowledge and to increase the individual motivation towards healthful diets. For the purpose of this study, a computer game was created collaboratively by the University of Helsinki and the University of Vienna. In the laboratory study carried out in Helsinki, the participants were presented with the serious game made of two tasks, a food ranking task and a sports game. In the beginning of the game, the player is asked to customize his/her own avatar on several dimensions.  The objective of the player in the food ranking task is to rank in order (images of) foods on the basis of given criteria, whereas the objective of the player in the sports game is to win the opponent in a sports-like competition. At the end of each food ranking subtask, feedback (correct nutrition values) is given. More specifically, it was asked whether coupling the performance in the food ranking task with the performance in the intrinsically motivating sports game influences encoding of (memory for) nutritional information and attitudes/approach motivation towards healthy/unhealthy foods. In one experimental condition, the ability to beat the opponent in the sports game depends on the player’s performance in the food ranking task, whereas in the other condition, it does not. That is, the player’s performance in the food ranking task has an impact on the avatar’s outlook (smile/frown, fit/unfit) as well as speed and strength in the sports game. It was also asked whether the type of the opponent influences the outcome variables. Therefore, the game was played either against another human or against artificial intelligence (computer). To assess learning, we used a recognition (multiple choice) memory test on nutritional information. To assess approach motivation, we measured electroencephalographic (EEG) asymmetry over the prefrontal cortex in response to images of healthy/unhealthy foods. In addition to traditional self-report measures, other emotion-related physiological measures were also used, including facial electromyography (EMG, facial muscle activity), electrodermal activity (EDA), and electrocardiography (ECG, cardiac activity) (Consultant: Dr. A. Wölfel).

We have now collected data over 60 participants. According to more detailed scientific research questions we are hoping to have information also does this play really increase the food related knowledge (remember the amount of actual ingredient information) or does it had effect on approach motivation (e.g. dislike of unhealthy food). Information related nutrition and health is one of the most examined area that have lot of public interest.  There is huge amount of information that people can learn of their diet. Our approach to combine serious games and food knowledge could be on path to follow to increase food knowledge that may lead to successful behaviour change to prevent obesity and related diseases. This is information will be use when we are design PRECIOUS system that include several behaviour change techniques as delivering information (of food). It is not only what information we will deliver but how to make that information delivery successful and our approach is do that with serious game approach.

Posted in Organisation.