Using Relational Agents to Promote Exercise and Sun Protection: Assessment of Participants’ Experiences With Two Interventions

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Background: Relational agents (RAs) are electronic computational figures designed to engage participants in the change process. A recent study, Project RAISE, tested the effectiveness of RAs, combined with existing computer-based interventions to increase regular exercise and sun protection behaviors. Results showed these interventions can be effective but need further development. Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine participants� experiences using RAs to increase participant engagement and promote behavior change . Methods: A qualitative approach was primarily utilized. A 25-question interview guide assessed different components of participants� experiences with the intervention, including motivation, engagement, satisfaction or dissatisfaction, quality of their interaction with the RA, and behavior change. Quantitative assessment of satisfaction was based on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 representing least satisfied and 10 representing most satisfied. A summative analytic approach was used to assess individuals� qualitative responses. A single analysis of variance (ANOVA) examined levels of satisfaction by gender. Results: Of the original 1354 participants enrolled in Project RAISE, 490 of 1354 (36%) were assigned to the RA group. A sample of 216 out of 490 (44%) participants assigned to the RA group completed the interventions, and follow-up assessments were contacted to participate in the semistructured interview. A total of 34 out of 216 (16%) completed the interview. Participants were motivated by, and satisfied with, the intervention. Participants viewed the RA as supportive, informative, caring, and reported positive behavior change in both exercise and sun protection. Some participants (15/34, 44%) noted the RA was less judgmental and less �overbearing� compared with a human counselor; other participants (12/34, 35%) said that the interaction was sometimes repetitive or overly general. The majority of participants (22/34, 65%) viewed the RA as an important contributor to their behavior change for exercise, sun protection, or both. Levels of satisfaction ranged between 7 and 10. There were no gender differences noted in levels of satisfaction (P=.51). Conclusions: RAs provide an innovative and attractive platform to increase exercise and sun protection behaviors and potentially other health behaviors.

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Journal of Medical Internet Research