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People prefer 'carrots' to 'sticks' when it comes to healthcare incentives
Date:6/26/2013

was wrong regardless of the potential savings to be had.

The data showed that framing incentives in terms of penalties may have particular psychological consequences for affected individuals: People with higher body mass index (BMI) scores reported that they would feel particularly stigmatized and dissatisfied with their employer under the three "stick" plans.

Another study placed participants in the decision maker's seat to see if "stick" and "carrot" plans actually reflected different underlying attitudes. Participants who showed high levels of bias against overweight people were more likely to choose the "stick" plan, but provided different justification depending on whether their bias was explicit or implicit:

"Participants who explicitly disliked overweight people were forthcoming about their decision, admitting that they chose a 'stick' policy on the basis of personal attitudes," noted Tannenbaum. "Participants who implicitly disliked overweight people, in contrast, justified their decisions based on the most economical course of action."

Ironically, if they were truly focused on economic concerns they should have opted for the "carrot" plan, since it would save the company $100 per employee. Instead, these participants tended to choose the strategy that effectively punished overweight people, even in instances when the "stick" policy implied a financial cost to the company.

Tannenbaum concludes that these framing effects may have important consequences across many different real-world domains:

"In a broad sense, our research affects policymakers at large," says Tannenbaum. "Logically equivalent policies in various domains such as setting a default option for organ donation or retirement savings can communicate very different messages, and understanding the nature of these messages could help policymakers craft more effective policy."


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

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