Wellbeing in the making: peoples’ experiences with wearable activity trackers

Evangelos Karapanos*, Rúben Gouveia, Marc Hassenzahl, Jodi Forlizzi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Background: Wearable activity trackers have become a viable business opportunity. Nevertheless, research has raised concerns over their potentially detrimental effects on wellbeing. For example, a recent study found that while counting steps with a pedometer increased steps taken throughout the day, at the same time it decreased the enjoyment people derived from walking. This poses a serious threat to the incorporation of healthy routines into everyday life. Most studies aim at proving the effectiveness of activity trackers. In contrast, a wellbeing-oriented perspective calls for a deeper understanding of how trackers create and mediate meaningful experiences in everyday life.

Methods: We present a study of real life experiences with three wearable activity trackers: Fitbit, Jawbone Up and Nike + Fuelband. Using need fulfillment as a theoretical lens, we study recent, memorable experiences submitted by 133 users of activity trackers.

Results: We reveal a two-dimensional structure of users' experience driven by the needs of physical thriving or relatedness. Our qualitative findings further show a nuanced picture of the adoption of activity trackers and their impact on wellbeing. For instance, while reflection about own exercising practices lost its relevance over time, users continued to wear the tracker to document and collect their runs. More than just supporting behavioral change, we find trackers to provide multiple psychological benefits. For instance, they enhance feelings of autonomy as people gain more control about their exercising regime. Others experience relatedness, when family members purchase a tracker for relatives and join them in their efforts towards a better, healthier self.

Conclusions: The study highlights that activity trackers can be more than "tools" to change behavior. Through incorporation in daily life, they offer new social experiences, new ways of boosting our self-esteem and getting closer to our ideal selves.
Original languageEnglish
Article number4
JournalPsychology of well-being
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


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