Posted on Apr 21, 2017, 10 a.m.
Online sharing through wearable devices motivates runners to run faster and further.
Scientists have found that running is contagious. To be more precise, the sharing of running-related information is contagious and motivational. There is a legitimate and measurable impact when such information is exchanged. People are more inclined to run if they socialize with others who run. This is especially true for socialization in the digital realm on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter when information pertaining to running is mentioned. It is also interesting to note that people tend to run farther and faster when they read or see their friends doing the same.
The Power of the Social Network
Nowadays, people can share information across social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with computing devices beyond desktop and laptop computers. Active individuals tend to use wearable devices like smart watches and smartphones that allow for immediate sharing. Wearable technology allows runners to make use of digital apps that gauge, record and compare the frequency of runs, the distance run and the speed at which the running occurred. The sharing of this information has greatly influenced others in runners' social circles. Even when one runs by himself, the odds of him thinking about the running habits or performances of his friends, family, and colleagues are quite high.
About the Study
The study was conducted by researchers at the MIT Sloan School of Management. They recorded the daily exercise routines, locations and social network connections of over a million individuals. In total, these runners covered more than 217 million miles in half a decade.
A Closer Look at the Results
The study's results make it clear that exercise is contagious in a social sense. This contagion can be broken down into distinct lines. Men are impacted by the running habits of their male and female friends. Women are more influenced by their female friends. The majority of the runners in the study were inspired by the push to stay ahead of those who were behind them. This finding is quite intriguing in the context of exercise psychology. Contrary to popular belief, comparisons to those who are faster or have better stamina than oneself are not as inspirational as downward comparisons that reinforce one's feelings of superiority. The results of the study were recently published in Nature Communications.
Why the Study is Important
The study provides the first evidence that habits relating to health and fitness can spread to others. This means it is possible to deliberately influence others by planting a seed of sorts through social media. Though some research efforts concerning a contagious effect in factors like smoking and obesity have been performed, the results of such efforts have been inconclusive. The new study makes it clear that social data is quite powerful, especially if made available to large amounts of people in a routine manner.
Part of what makes such shared data so influential is the fact that it is an accurate representation of running performance. Computerized wearables do not lie like many people do in casual conversation. The forthright nature of the information speaks to the competitive nature of human beings. Sharing a run's results on social media platforms provokes or inspires (depending on one's perception) others to meet the standard set by the individual who shares. It is likely that if other performance-related information were to be shared through social networks in such an instantaneous manner, people would strive to better themselves and outdo their peers in those respective endeavors as well.
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Nature 544, 270 (20 April 2017) doi:10.1038/544270a