• Monika Imschloss
  • Jana Lorenz


Background: Goal setting is among the most common behavioral change techniques employed in contemporary self-tracking apps. For these techniques to be effective, it is relevant to understand how the visual presentation of goal-related outcomes employed in the app design affects users’ responses to their self-tracking outcomes.

Objective: This study examined whether a spatially close (vs distant) presentation of mixed positive and negative self-tracking outcomes from multiple domains (ie, activity, diet) on a digital device’s screen can provide users the opportunity to hedonically edit their self-tracking outcome profile (ie, to view their mixed self-tracking outcomes in the most positive light). Further, this study examined how the opportunity to hedonically edit one’s self-tracking outcome profile relates to users’ future health behavior intentions.

Methods: To assess users’ responses to a spatially close (vs distant) presentation of a mixed-gain (vs mixed-loss) self-tracking outcome profile, a randomized 2×2 between-subjects online experiment with a final sample of 397 participants (mean age 27.4, SD 7.2 years; 71.5%, 284/397 female) was conducted in Germany. The experiment started with a cover story about a fictitious self-tracking app. Thereafter, participants saw one of four manipulated self-tracking outcome profiles. Variables of interest measured were health behavior intentions, compensatory health beliefs, health motivation, and recall of the outcome profile. We analyzed data using chi-square tests (SPSS version 23) and moderated mediation analyses with the PROCESS macro 2.16.1.

Results: Spatial distance facilitated hedonic editing, which was indicated by systematic memory biases in users’ recall of positive and negative self-tracking outcomes. In the case of a mixed-gain outcome profile, a spatially close (vs distant) presentation tended to increase the underestimation of the negative outcome (P=.06). In the case of a mixed-loss outcome profile, a spatially distant (vs close) presentation facilitated the exact recognition of the positive outcome (P=.04). When the presentation of self-tracking outcomes provided the opportunity for hedonic editing, users with a low (vs high) health motivation produced compensatory health beliefs, which led to lower health behavior intentions (index of moderated mediation=0.0352, 95% CI 0.0011-0.0923).

Conclusions: When spatial distance between the presentations of mixed self-tracking outcomes provided the opportunity to hedonically edit one’s self-tracking outcome profile, users recalled their self-tracking outcomes in a more positive light. Especially for users with lower health motivation, the opportunity to hedonically edit one’s mixed self-tracking outcome profile led to reduced health behavior intentions. To prevent the occurrence of hedonic editing in users’ responses to visually presented self-tracking outcome profiles, further research is necessary to determine the ideal distance that should be employed in the app design for the presentation of mixed self-tracking outcomes on a digital device’s screen.


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