Young Innovators: U of S game teaches healthy eating to online shoppers – Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Ifeoma Adaji has developed a game to teach people healthy eating. (photo by Dave Stobbe for the University of Saskatchewan) (for Saskatoon StarPhoenix Young Innovators series, September 2020) ORG XMIT: SK
Ifeoma Adaji has developed a game to teach people healthy eating. Photo by DAVID STOBBE /jpg

Adaji’s research sheds light on how people can be influenced through targeted educational messages based on their answers to personality questionnaires and data from their previous online shopping behaviour. The results are published in the proceedings of the International Conference on Persuasive Technology 2020.

Adaji used “influence strategies,” techniques commonly used by marketers to sell products, to encourage players to make wise choices. The strategies aim to affect people’s online behaviour by appealing to the players’ specific needs such as for status, peer approval, and feeling unique, or for following authority.

“For example, for players who like listening to authority, I have come up with messages saying that the Ministry of Health recommended certain foods for certain nutritional value, whereas for those who value what their friends think, I have messages saying that they should buy certain items because their friends did,” Adaji said.

“I found that players change their behaviours only when reading messages that are tailored to them. The messages don’t work if they simply state what healthy foods are.”

Given that not everyone playing the game may recognize nutritious foods to buy, when players make unhealthy choices, messages designed by Adaji randomly pop up on the screen to provide information about healthy eating.

She tested the game on more than 300 people, and three-quarters of them responded to at least one message positively by “buying” in-game healthy groceries. She said most of the players described the game as an effective, fun way to learn about healthy eating.

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