PRINCETON, NJ -- The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) today announced more than $1.85 million in grants for research that will offer insight into how digital games can improve players’ health behaviors and outcomes.

With funding from RWJF’s Health Games Research national program, nine research teams will conduct studies to discover how interactive video games can be designed to improve physical activity, prevention behaviors and self-management of chronic conditions.

The nine research teams, chosen from among 185 proposals, each have been awarded between $100,000 and $300,000 to lead one- to two-year studies of digital games that engage players in physical activity and/or motivate them to improve how they take care of themselves through healthy changes in lifestyle; prevention behaviors; cognitive, social or physical skills; chronic disease self-management; and/or adherence to a medical treatment plan.

The nine grant recipients are:

--Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA, for its Reward Circuitry, Autism and Games that Teach Social Perceptual Skills study, in which tests are done on effects of facial perception games on the brain activity and facial perception skills of 8- to 12-year-old children who have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

--George Washington University, Washington, DC, for its study, Active-Adventure: Investigating a Novel Exergaming Genre in Inner City School Physical Education Programs. This study compares physical, psychological and behavioral effects of three video-based games.

--Georgetown University, Washington, DC, for its Wii Active Exergame Intervention for Low-Income African-American Obese and Overweight Adolescents study. This study compares the physiological, social and cognitive outcomes of Wii use by obese and overweight urban high school students.

--Long Island University, Brooklyn, NY, for its Dance Video Game Training and Falling in Parkinson’s Disease study. This study compares the use of a commercially available dance pad video game, Dance Dance Revolution, to two traditional treatment options that help people with Parkinson’s Disease reduce their risk of falling by increasing their balance, strength, endurance, motor coordination and visual-motor integration.

--Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, for its Buddy Up! Harnessing Group Dynamics to Boost Motivation to Exercise study. The study provides a virtual partner that engages in exercises with participants on the Eye Toy: Kinetic camera-based video game. Characteristics of the partner are varied to see which are most effective at improving endurance and exercise time.

--Michigan State University for its Short-Term and Long-Term Effectiveness of Exergames for Young Adults study. The research investigates effects of the Mount Olympus game, a 3D fantasy role-playing game that requires players to move their upper and lower body in order to control their character’s movements throughout the world of the game.

--Teachers College, Columbia University in New York, for its Lit: A Game Intervention for Nicotine Smokers study. This study develops and evaluates a smoking reduction game delivered on a mobile phone.

--University of California, San Francisco, for its A Video Game to Enhance Cognitive Health in Older Adults study. This study aims to improve focus and other related cognitive skills by using a driving game in which players practice paying attention to relevant information, such as traffic signs, and ignoring irrelevant information, such as billboards.

--University of Southern California, Los Angeles, for its Robot Motivator: Towards Adaptive Health Games for Productive Long-Term Interaction study. This study examines the influence of virtual social characters on people’s motivation to exercise. Study participants ages 60 and older are randomly assigned to exercise by following the lead of either an embodied character, which is a human-looking robot that demonstrates exercises right there in the room with them or an animated presentation of the same robot on a television screen.

Health Games Research is supported by an $8.25 million grant from RWJF’s Pioneer Portfolio, which funds projects that may lead to breakthrough improvements in the future of health and health care. The national program, which conducts, supports and disseminates research to improve the quality and impact of health games, is headquartered at the University of California, Santa Barbara. It is directed by Debra Lieberman, Ph.D., communication researcher in the university’s Institute for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Research and an expert in the research and design of interactive media for learning and health behavior change. The grants were awarded under the program’s second funding round to strengthen the evidence base in this emerging field.

“Digital games are interactive and experiential, and so they can engage people in powerful ways to enhance learning and health behavior change, especially when they are designed on the basis of well-researched strategies,” Lieberman said in a release from RWJF. “The studies funded by Health Games Research will provide cutting-edge, evidence-based strategies that designers will be able to use in the future to make their health games more effective.”