Brain activation in response to personalized behavioral and physiological feedback from self-monitoring technology: pilot study

Background: The recent surge in commercially available wearable technology has allowed real-time self-monitoring of behavior (eg, physical activity) and physiology (eg, glucose levels). However, there is limited neuroimaging work (ie, functional magnetic resonance imaging [fMRI]) to identify how people’s brains respond to receiving this personalized health feedback and how this impacts subsequent behavior. Objective: Identify regions of the brain activated and examine associations between activation and behavior. Methods: This was a pilot study to assess physical activity, sedentary time, and glucose levels over 14 days in 33 adults (aged 30 to 60 years). Extracted accelerometry, inclinometry, and interstitial glucose data informed the construction of personalized feedback messages (eg, average number of steps per day). These messages were subsequently presented visually to participants during fMRI. Participant physical activity levels and sedentary time were assessed again for 8 days following exposure to this personalized feedback. Results: Independent tests identified significant activations within the prefrontal cortex in response to glucose feedback compared with behavioral feedback (P<.001). Reductions in mean sedentary time (589.0 vs 560.0 minutes per day, P=.014) were observed. Activation in the subgyral area had a moderate correlation with minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (r=0.392, P=.043). Conclusion: Presenting personalized glucose feedback resulted in significantly more brain activation when compared with behavior. Participants reduced time spent sedentary at follow-up. Research on deploying behavioral and physiological feedback warrants further investigation.