Active Videogames to Promote Traditional Active Play: Increasing the Reinforcing Value of Active Play among Low-Active Children

Kelsey Ufholz, Kyle D. Flack, Luann Johnson, James N. Roemmich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: Exercise reinforcement predicts physical activity of children. Repeated exposures of physical activity may increase physical activity reinforcement (incentive sensitization). Active videogame (AVG) play produces light-to-moderate-intensity physical activity. Ideally, AVG play would transition to nonscreen-based active play through incentive sensitization of traditional active play (TAP), providing AVG does not increase sedentary videogame (SVG) reinforcement. Greater autonomy increases motivation toward traditional physical activity, but whether autonomy enhances incentive sensitization has not been studied. Objectives: To determine whether autonomy over AVG play promotes incentive sensitization of TAP or SVG. Methods: Inactive children (ages 8-12; 5th-97th body mass index percentile) were provided with AVG and SVG for 6 weeks and assigned to either a high autonomy (n = 25) or low autonomy (n = 24) group, differentiated by AVG choice and more freedom over amount of play. Both groups played AVG 3 days per week. SVG were played ad libitum. Participants completed an operant responding task to measure the relative reinforcing value (RRV) of AVG versus SVG (RRVAVG vs. SVG) and AVG versus TAP (RRVAVG vs. TAP) at baseline, 6 weeks, and 10 weeks. Results: RRVAVG vs. SVG increased over time (P = 0.056) but did not differ by autonomy or autonomy × time (P = 0.184). RRVAVG vs. TAP decreased over time (P = 0.033) but did not differ by autonomy or autonomy × time (P = 0.73). Conclusion: AVG play does not increase motivation toward SVG and increases motivation to play AVG relative to TAP. Providing higher autonomy did not promote incentive sensitization of play.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)208-214
Number of pages7
JournalGames for health journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was funded by the United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, 3062-51000-51-00D. The mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations does not imply endorsement from the U.S. government. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

Publisher Copyright:
© Kelsey Ufholz, et al., 2019; Published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. 2019.


  • Children
  • Physical activity
  • Relative reinforcing value
  • Videogames

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Rehabilitation
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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