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Laying money on the line leads to healthier food choices over time
Date:1/6/2014

People are more likely to choose healthy options at the grocery store if they use the risk of losing their monthly healthy food discount as a motivational tool, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The research adds to a body of work aimed at understanding which factors are most effective for increasing healthy behaviors, a growing concern for many different groups, from health insurance companies to public health agencies, according to researchers Janet Schwartz and Daniel Mochon of Tulane University.

The power of a financial incentive can motivate people to do a lot of things, but constantly doling out increasing amounts of money to keep incentives going over the long term might quickly sap institutional coffers or prove ineffective.

"We tried to think of an incentive design that would give people better self-control but wouldn't involve increasing incentive amounts," Schwartz and Mochon explain.

"People can be quite sophisticated or self-aware of their self-control problems," the researchers note. "In light of this, they may welcome opportunities that help resist temptation even at the risk of some penalty."

Schwartz, Mochon, and colleagues hypothesized that shoppers who agreed to put their grocery discount on the line would be more likely to make healthier choices at the grocery store.

The researchers conducted a randomized controlled experiment with over 6,500 households enrolled in the Discovery Health Vitality Rewards program in South Africa, including some households that were given an opportunity to voluntarily precommit to a goal of increasing their healthy food purchases by 5 percentage points over their historical average for each of the six months in the study. So, a household whose grocery purchases were composed of 25% healthy foods, on average, would be asked to increase the healthy foods quotient to 30%.
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Contact: Anna Mikulak
amikulak@psychologicalscience.org
202-293-9300
Association for Psychological Science
Source:Eurekalert

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