THUMBS UP - self-love and wearables

The rising popularity of wearables and online social networks has seen them touted as potential platforms for improving community health and wellbeing. These systems have found favour with a broad spectrum of users, from serious, competitive athletes to people trying to become more active, lose weight and boost wellbeing.   We need to understand how these systems are designed to target specific, positive exercise behaviours and determine how they might accommodate health behaviour change theories if they are to be candidates for any substantive public health strategies. The next series of articles reflects on research by the author that examined features of a population of users of an exercise tracking app and the role the characteristics of these people and the design of the system may play in their exercise outcomes,  online interactions and device persistence. 

To start, wearable app user data for 20,000 users over a 3 year period was examined; the role social factors and the design of the system may play in exercise outcomes and online behaviour were then explored. A thorough descriptive analysis was conducted of the data and a number of finds emerged that were of interest. The findings are pictorially summarised in the infographic. Our series of articles will examine some of the more interesting of these over the next few months.

Let's start with something a little left-field; the ever-present "LIKES" or thumbs up feedback function popularised by Facebook.

The majority of the likes sent, (67.4%) were “self-appreciation,” that a user sent to their own record.  More than 75 percent of users received two LIKES or fewer and only receive LIKES from themselves.  The data for LIKES sent reflect the same phenomenon, as more than 75 percent of users send 2 or fewer LIKES and only send LIKES to themselves.  This self-appreciation may be interpreted as a form of self-affirmation for exercise by the individual who seems to be signalling to themselves that they are pleased to have exercised and or are pleased with the nature and or outcome of the exercise, the effort involved or the performance reached. 

Self-affirmation theory maintains that an individual may react to a threat to their self-esteem by using other self-resources to sustain an image of themselves as capable, which primarily involves drawing upon an alternate individual attribute that has proven their self worth in a separate circumstance, (Cohen & Sherman, 2014).  The tendency for this sample of wearable users to send themselves LIKES may imply that these particular individuals draw succour from their exercise competence, a necessary element in experiencing self-efficacy which is seen as vital to an individual’s motivation to commence and continue exercise, (Bandura, 2004; Litt, Kleppinger, & Judge, 2002; Martin & Woods, 2012). 

The role self-affirmation plays in encouraging physical activity is not extensively researched, although (Cooke, Trebaczyk, Harris, & Wright, 2014) have recently used a controlled trial to investigate the association between self-affirmation and physical activity behaviour.  They found self-affirmation, before the provision of information about physical activity and its effects on health, increased self-reported physical activity.  Self-affirmed participants reported involving themselves in more physical activity at 1-week follow-up compared with their non-affirmed counterparts.  Self-affirmed participants also demonstrated stronger intentions and more positive attitudes, compared with participants who did not affirm.  This particular study suffers from being limited by being totally reliant upon participant self-reported measurement and a lack of long-term post intervention assessment; one week seems insufficient.  

At the very least, the phenomenon of self-likes may warrant further investigation, particularly when considered against the evidence that Facebook profiles are self-affirming through satisfying users’ need for self-worth and self-integrity; (Toma & Hancock, 2013).  This study also revealed a tendency for Facebook users to gravitate toward their online profiles after receiving a blow to the ego, in an effort to remediate their self-esteem.  It may be that the users in our study gravitate toward the ego-protective action of positively affirming the completion of an exercise session online.  Again, this determination of the self-affirmation value of the profile element of the system could be investigated further.



Bandura, A. (2004). Health promotion by social cognitive means. Health Educ Behav, 31(2), 143–164. doi:10.1177/1090198104263660

Cooke, R., Trebaczyk, H., Harris, P., & Wright, A. J. (2014). Self-affirmation promotes physical activity. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 36(2), 217–223. doi:10.1123/jsep.2013-0041

Litt, M. D., Kleppinger, A., & Judge, J. O. (2002). Initiation and maintenance of exercise behavior in older women: predictors from the social learning model. J Behav Med, 25(1), 83–97. doi:10.1023/A:1013593819121

Martin, A. M., & Woods, C. B. (2012). What Sustains Long-Term Adherence to Structured Physical Activity After a Cardiac Event? Journal of Aging & Physical Activity, 20(2), 135–147.

Toma, C. L., & Hancock, J. T. (2013). Self-Affirmation Underlies Facebook Use. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39(3), 321–331. doi:10.1177/0146167212474694


Dr Daryl Foy

Dr Daryl Foy is a Behavioural Scientist who specialises in the design of effective health behaviour change apps based on evidence including his own validated models for optimising persistent use. He consults to industry on how-to integrate persuasive design into LEAN product development as well as conversational UI. He can be contacted at