Examining the Longitudinal Effects of Behavior Tracking in Educational and Work Settings

Social and Behavioral Sciences; Industrial and Organizational Psychology; Social Psychology

The goal of this project is to examine the immediate and long-term effects of working in smart environments that are capable of continuously tracking and influencing people’s behaviors.

The goal of this project is to examine the immediate and long-term effects of working in smart environments that are capable of continuously tracking and influencing people’s behaviors. We lack a clear understanding of how to leverage advances in engineering to promote positive societal and environmental outcomes. To address this issue, our research team seeks to combine expertise in engineering, social psychology, education, and organizational behavior to explore how behavior tracking through smart systems influences various individual outcomes (e.g., psychological well-being, motivation, performance, and goal attainment) and environmental outcomes (e.g., sustainability behaviors, trust in autonomous smart systems, and effectiveness of environmental systems). Building on the idea that feedback from humans versus machines are received and interpreted differently due to various social psychological processes, we seek to develop useful insights for research and practice by exploring the long-term effects of behavior tracking. To test these ideas, we will initiate this project in the UVA LINK Lab - a scalable, living, test-bed for automated environmental and occupant sensing. We will evaluate how people’s behaviors and responses are influenced when feedback is provided by an automated system versus when similar feedback is provided by a human.


In recent years, an unprecedented proliferation of technological devices has led to marked changes in human behavior. This is especially evident in modern workplace environments that leverage advances in numerous areas such as behavior tracking, text analytics, natural-language processing, data science, and the Internet of Things (IoT) to track and influence people’s behaviors. For example, collaboration tools (e.g., Slack, Google Drive) have expanded the limits of teamwork by allowing people from different parts of the world to work remotely with each other. Similarly, immersive technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) enable people to virtually interact and work with each other in a digital workplace. In addition to enabling new ways for people to connect, novel technological tools have made it possible for our workplaces to become active monitoring environments where minute aspects of people’s behaviors can be constantly tracked and measured. For instance, work environments with advanced embedded sensors can not only they can track environmental changes (e.g., temperature, lighting, energy use), but can also track and understand how people in such environments behave. From these examples, it is evident that technological advances have the potential to upend and transform traditional work environments by tracking people and altering the ways in they engage with each other and with their work. The goal of this project is to examine the immediate and long-term effects of working in smart environments that are capable of continuously tracking and influencing people’s individual and environmental behaviors.  


Tracking people’s behaviors closely and offering real-time feedback based on that information can have numerous effects, both positive and negative. For example, when people’s environmentally-oriented behaviors are constantly tracked and evaluated, it might  reduce building energy consumption, improve operational efficiencies, and promote positive environmental outcomes. On the contrary, people maybe reticent about sharing their personal information and may be unwilling to let others track them. Indeed, extant research suggests that people are inherently opposed to tracking and perceive it as autonomy-reducing, privacy-invading, denigrating, and stress-inducing. Therefore, it is unclear when and how behavior tracking through smart, autonomous environmental systems can be beneficial to people. Importantly, we lack a clear understanding of how to leverage advances in engineering to promote positive societal and environmental outcomes. To address this issue, our research team seeks to combine and leverage expertise in engineering, social psychology, education, and organizational behavior to explore how behavior tracking through smart systems influences various individual outcomes (e.g., psychological well-being, motivation, performance, and goal attainment) and environmental outcomes (e.g., sustainability behaviors, trust in autonomous smart systems, and effectiveness of environmental systems).  


Specifically, we seek to examine how smart, autonomous systems can effectively deliver feedback to users to motivate behavioral change. Previous studies have evaluated different data visualization and interaction systems as the feedback mechanism between the environment and people; however, due to the lack of access to real-life testbeds, researchers have not evaluated the longitudinal impact of automated feedback on the people’s intra-personal and social behaviors. By having access to the UVA Living LINK Lab - a scalable test-bed for automated environmental and occupant sensing - this project will evaluate how people’s behaviors and responses are influenced when feedback is provided by an automated system versus when similar feedback is provided by a human. Building on the idea that feedback from humans versus machines are received and interpreted differently due to various social psychological processes, we seek to develop useful insights for research and practice by exploring the long-term effects of behavior tracking. Having access to a state-of-the-art tracked living-space (i.e., the LINK lab), affords us the unique opportunity to track people’s psychological and physiological responses, and real-time behaviors. In this mixed-methods, longitudinal study we will examine how individuals perceive the tracked living-space environment and the extent to which the feedback it provides influences human behavior.

Desired outcomes

By leveraging our collective expertise in engineering and behavioral science we seek to better understand how emerging behavior tracking technologies influence various immediate and long-term outcomes. The extensive, longitudinal data-collection effort will include multiple measures of motivation, subjective well-being, sustainability behaviors, physiological responses,and work-engagement. By tracking these measures at regular intervals and by examining how people respond to automated versus human feedback, we will develop insights that can enable us to advocate future interventions through automated systems in the behavior tracking space. We hope that this will enable us to seek outside funding (e.g., NSF, NIH) to further pursue these research topics. Additionally, the current longitudinal project will examine the effects of automated monitoring and feedback on: (1) individual outcomes such as psychological well-being, motivation, performance, and goal attainment and, (2) environmental outcomes such as sustainability behaviors, trust in autonomous smart systems, and effectiveness of environmental systems.