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Exercise Science | Kinesiology | Life Sciences | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sports Studies


Mary Stenson, Exercise Science and Sport Studies


Introduction. Fatigue is a result of physiological and psychological limits. Associative thoughts (thoughts of physical sensations) and dissociative thoughts (thoughts not regarding physical sensations) compete for attentional focus during exercise and can influence exercise performance and fatigue. Distractions during exercise, such as watching TV or interactive exercise, increase dissociative thoughts and reduce rate of perceived exertion (RPE). Limited research exists regarding the effects of a virtual training partner on exercise performance and fatigue.

Purpose. To examine whether the use of a virtual training partner (ghost) will improve performance by increasing dissociative thoughts. We hypothesized that the use of a ghost during exercise would decrease heart rate (HR), RPE, time to completion, and increase dissociative thoughts.

Methods. Eleven recreationally active female college students (age = 21.45 ±0.52yr) performed two 4-mile time trials along a scenic route displayed on an Expresso® Interactive Bicycle. Both trials required participants to bike four miles as fast as they could; however, the second trial included a ghost on the route and participants were asked to keep up with or beat the ghost. Participants were told the ghost during the second trial was set to their exact pace from the first trial; however, it was set to a pace 8.8 ±1.5% faster than the participant’s first trial time. HR, RPE, associative and dissociative thoughts, watts, and time were recorded at every mile throughout the course. Associative and dissociative thoughts were measured on a 10-point scale where higher numbers represented dissociative thoughts. Participants were briefed on the differences between associative and dissociative thoughts before the first trial.

Results. Overall cycling time was significantly faster (t(10) =3.37, p =.007) for the ghost trial (ghost: 976.64s ±102.55s; control: 1029.91s ±117.93s). The interaction between trial and individual mile time was not significant (F(3)=1.57, p =.218). Mile two (ghost: 296.64s ±36.72s; control: 312s ±30.65s; p =.022) and mile three (ghost: 238.82s ±28.2s; control: 264.09s ±50.28s; p =.038) were significantly faster in the ghost trial. Dissociative thoughts were significantly higher during the ghost trial in miles one (ghost: 6.73 ±1.62; control: 5.18 ±1.60; p=.046), two (ghost: 6.09 ±1.51; control: 4.14 ±1.76; p=.003), and three (ghost: 6.77 ±.984; control: 5.09 ±1.51; p=.004). There were no significant differences in HR, RPE, and watts between trials.

Conclusion. A diversion in attentional focus from physical sensations to the ghost was evident by greater dissociative thoughts during the ghost trial. Virtual training partners have the potential to contribute to reductions in fatigue and increase performance during cycling time trials.