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

For some, this amounted to adding only a few more vegetables or low-fat foods per trip at the risk of forfeiting their entire monthly cash-back discount on all healthy foods.

The data revealed that only the households who volunteered to put their cash-back discount on the line increased their healthy food purchases by an average of 3.5 percentage points over each of the six months in the study. This was compared to households who chose not to risk their discount and a control group who had no opportunity to make a financially binding commitment.

Even though some families didn't reach the goal each month, the researchers were surprised by their resiliency:

"Those who failed the task who did not get the discount nevertheless wanted to stay in the program," explains psychological scientist and study co-author Dan Ariely of Duke University. "These were people that tried to use the financial penalty to improve their own behavior and failed to do so. But they did not blame anyone else, and they did not stop trying."

These findings call into question the assumption that more information is all people need in order to make better decisions:

"People sometimes know what the right thing to do is, but they're not able to act on that," Ariely explains. "If we want people to behave better, what we need to do is not provide them with more information, but instead help them change their environment."

The new research indicates that people really do understand the importance of purchasing healthy foods, and are even willing to put a constraint on themselves as a way of changing their environment in order to try to achieve that goal.

Building off of these initial results, the researchers want to know whether the precommitment strategy caused participants to continue buying healthy foods even after the risk of losing money went away, and what effects this strategy has on other health behaviors.

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Contact: Anna Mikulak
amikulak@psychologicalscience.org
202-293-9300
Association for Psychological Science
Source:Eurekalert

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