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Cyber Partners: Harnessing Group Dynamics to Boost Motivation for More Efficient Exercise (NCC958MA03401)
Principal Investigator
Research Area:
Behavior and performance
Species Studied
Scientific Name: Homo sapiens Species: Human


Astronauts may have difficulty adhering to exercise regimens at vigorous intensity levels during long space missions. Keeping up with exercise prescriptions is important for aerobic and musculoskeletal health during space missions and afterwards. A key impediment to maintaining intense levels of exercise is motivation. However, finding ways to motivate astronauts to be physically active at the levels necessary to lessen the effects of bone and muscle loss and aerobic capacity has not been explored. Typically individuals become bored with training regimens over time or find them less enjoyable if they do not have strategies to maintain their motivation. Although traditional group exercise leads to higher exercise adherence than individual exercise programs, structured group exercise programs are not possible for astronauts during space missions. Exercise video games have been marketed as a way to increase people’s motivation and enjoyment to exercise by being entertaining, engaging and providing a means by which to interact with other players. Although many exercise games involve competition among players, few take advantage of group dynamics to motivate play and there has been little attempt to analyze what game features and interpersonal interactions would best motivate users to continue exercising with these games. Using individuals closely matched in age and fitness to current astronauts, this research was designed to determine whether recently documented motivation gains in task groups can be harnessed to improve motivation in interactive exercise games using virtual, software-generated (SG) partners. Exercising with an SG partner offers a number of advantages such as availability, flexibility, and autonomy over a live human partner.

This study had the following specific aims:

  1. Develop software to create SG exercise partners and interface with exercise equipment (cycle ergometer) similar to equipment available on the International Space Station (ISS).
  2. Test various design features of an SG partner within designed exercise video games to determine the most effective features for enhancing motivation to exercise, enjoyment, confidence, and connectedness.
  3. Test whether exercising with an SG partner over a 24 weeks, compared to exercising alone, leads to better aerobic capacity and muscle strength, adherence to exercise regimen, enhanced exercise enjoyment, self-efficacy, and sense of social connectedness.

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Feltz DL, Ploutz-Snyder L, Winn B, Kerr NL, Pivarnik JM, Ede A, Hill C, Samendinger S, and Jeffery W. Simulated Partners and Collaborative Exercise (SPACE) to boost motivation for astronauts: Study protocol. BMC Psychology. 2016. Nov 14; 4(1):54. [DOI]

Aerobic capacity
Muscle strength

Data Information
Data Availability
Archive is complete. Data sets are not publicly available but can be requested.
Data Sets+ Request data

Aerobic capacity
Exercise motivation
Heart rate (HR)
Muscle strength
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Mission/Study Information
Mission Launch/Start Date Landing/End Date Duration
Ground 05/01/2009 In Progress

Human Research Program (HRP) Human Research Roadmap (HRR) Information
Crew health and performance is critical to successful human exploration beyond low Earth orbit. The Human Research Program (HRP) investigates and mitigates the highest risks to human health and performance, providing essential countermeasures and technologies for human space exploration. Risks include physiological and performance effects from hazards such as radiation, altered gravity, and hostile environments, as well as unique challenges in medical support, human factors, and behavioral health support. The HRP utilizes an Integrated Research Plan (IRP) to identify the approach and research activities planned to address these risks, which are assigned to specific Elements within the program. The Human Research Roadmap is the web-based tool for communicating the IRP content.

The Human Research Roadmap is located at:

+ Click here for information of how this experiment is contributing to the HRP's path for risk reduction.

Additional Information
Managing NASA Center
National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI)
Responsible NASA Representative
Johnson Space Center LSDA Office
Project Manager: Jessica Keune
Institutional Support
National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI)
Proposal Date
Proposal Source
2012 Crew Health NNJ12ZSA