Using Neuroscience to Optimize Digital Health Interventions across Adulthood (2018-2019)

Most people know that being more physically active is good for them, but many still don’t do it. While clinical trials have demonstrated the efficacy of exercise programs for enhancing cognition and well-being in older age, a persistent challenge is how to motivate aging adults to engage in physical activity in their daily lives. Recent neuroscientific and psychological research shows that motivation changes with age. Older adults are more motivated by social rewards and pay more attention to and better remember positively-framed messages relative to negatively-framed ones. Thus, positively-framed social rewards may provide critical incentives for aging adults to engage in physical activity.

This Bass Connections project team combined approaches from neuroscience, psychology and global health to identify ways to individually motivate adults to become more physically active in daily life. The team tested the hypothesis that positively-framed social rewards motivate aging adults’ to more frequently engage in physical activity in daily life. 

In a community sample of healthy adults ages 30-80, the team used human brain imaging (fMRI) to begin assessing the sensitivity of motivational brain systems (e.g., striatum and medial prefrontal cortex) to socioemotionally-framed health messages. After neuroimaging, study participants had their activity continuously monitored for three months while receiving physical activity promotion messages on their mobile phones in the form of programmed voice-over-IP and text messages, developed in partnership with the Duke Global Digital Health Science Center. Team members used the neural measures as predictors of the effectiveness of specific messages delivered via mobile phone to increase activity in daily life. Data collection for the project is ongoing and will continue in Fall 2019. 


Summer 2018 – Summer 2019  

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See related team, Using Neuroscience to Optimize Digital Health Interventions across Adulthood (2019-2020).

Woman exercising

Team Leaders

  • Gary Bennett, Arts & Sciences-Psychology and Neuroscience
  • Jaime Castrellon, Arts and Sciences–Psychology and Neuroscience–Ph.D. Student
  • Gregory Samanez-Larkin, Arts & Sciences-Psychology and Neuroscience

/graduate Team Members

  • Eric Juarez, Psychology-PHD, Psychology-AM

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Alexander Bendeck, Computer Science (BS)
  • Christian Benitez, Neuroscience (BS)
  • Micaela Brewington, Neuroscience (BS)
  • Melanie Camejo Coffigny, Neuroscience (AB)
  • Ayanna Kimble, Psychology (AB)
  • Uma Rao, Neuroscience (BS)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Eliana Armora, Duke Institute for Brain Sciences
  • Candace Brown, Center for Study of Aging
  • Kendra Seaman, Center for Study of Aging

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Emily Falk, University of Pennsylvania