While fitness tracking devices such as Fitbit and even Apple Watch have grown in popularity, psychologists claimed that they might take the fun out of exercise. If exercise becomes no fun, some might stop doing it altogether.
According to a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, measuring an activity, not necessarily exercise, can decrease a person's motivation to do it. If an activity is already rewarding on its own, quantifying it can just lead to adverse outcomes. A person might not see the benefits of the activity, but be stuck thinking of the numbers. Through a series of experiments, Jordan Etkin, a marketing professor at Duke University, claimed that measuring and quantifying activities can affect people's intrinsic motivate to do these.
While the enjoyment over something can decrease, it is still up to the person whether to do more of the activity. The experiments revealed that children who were asked to color shapes and then given numerical feedback still went on to color more shapes, but experienced little enjoyment for the activity. The same goes for people who used pedometers throughout a day. While they still walked more compared to those without pedometers, their enjoyment level is decreased.
This can therefore, be dangerous for people who cannot stay on for long to carry out tasks that are not personally enjoyable. They just might stop exercising altogether one day, which is counterproductive to the goals of these fitness trackers. "There's a major stream of research in psychology that looks at how providing external rewards can undermine the inherent fun or enjoyment of doing something," Etkin explained to Business Insider. "The classic example: If you have kids-kids like to color, they're coloring-if you give them an award for coloring, that makes them enjoy coloring less and makes them want to color less in the future."
Still, the lead researcher claimed that the findings will probably not affect those who are doing the activity for a specific reason. Specific data derived from the trackers or measurement tools can still help them if they are doing the activities to reach a goal. If it's something that's really goal-directed-I'm walking to lose weight, I'm walking because I want to be healthier-if walking serves some goal that I have, then measurement doesn't make it feel less enjoyable. In fact, it can have some benefits for enjoyment," she explained.
Essentially, if the lack of enjoyment does not put one off from exercising, then wearing a tracker can help. But this takes a rare breed of people to do so. "There's a really small minority of people who are so disciplined that no matter what, they're going to do it," says Michelle Segar, author of "No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness." But for the rest of the human race, fun is an important component.