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Incentives to Exercise

  • Charness, Gary B
  • Gneezy, Uri

Can incentives be effective when trying to encourage the development of good habits? We investigate the effect of paying people a non-trivial amount of money to attend an exercise facility a number of times during a one-month period. In two separate studies, we find that doing so leads to a large and significant increase in the average post-intervention attendance level relative to the control group. This result is entirely driven by the impact on people who did not previously attend the gym on a regular basis, as the average attendance rates for people who had already been using the gym regularly are either unchanged or diminished. In our second study, we also obtain biometric evidence that this intervention improves important health indicators such as weight, waist size, and pulse rate. Thus, even though personal incentives to exercise are already in place, it appears that providing financial incentive to attend the gym regularly for a month serves as a catalyst to get some people past the threshold of actually getting started with an exercise regimen. We argue that there is scope for financial intervention in habit formation, particularly in the area of health.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics, UC Santa Barbara in its series University of California at Santa Barbara, Economics Working Paper Series with number qt3tc3j5x7.

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Date of creation: 22 Aug 2008
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cdl:ucsbec:qt3tc3j5x7
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  1. Becker, Gary S & Murphy, Kevin M, 1988. "A Theory of Rational Addiction," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(4), pages 675-700, August.
  2. Ted O'Donoghue and Matthew Rabin ., 1997. "Doing It Now or Later," Economics Working Papers 97-253, University of California at Berkeley.
  3. Aldo Rustichini & Uri Gneezy, 2000. "A fine is a price," Natural Field Experiments 00258, The Field Experiments Website.
  4. Heidhues, Paul & Köszegi, Botond, 2005. "The Impact of Consumer Loss Aversion on Pricing," CEPR Discussion Papers 4849, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  5. Botond Kőszegi & Paul Heidhues, 2008. "Competition and Price Variation When Consumers Are Loss Averse," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(4), pages 1245-68, September.
  6. Falk, Armin & Fehr, Ernst, 2002. "Psychological Foundations of Incentives," CEPR Discussion Papers 3185, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  7. Dan Ariely & George Loewenstein & Drazen Prelec, 2003. ""Coherent Arbitrariness": Stable Demand Curves Without Stable Preferences," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 118(1), pages 73-105, February.
  8. B. Douglas Bernheim & Antonio Rangel, 2004. "Addiction and Cue-Triggered Decision Processes," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(5), pages 1558-1590, December.
  9. Bénabou, Roland & Tirole, Jean, 2002. "Willpower and Personal Rules," CEPR Discussion Papers 3143, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  10. Richard H. Thaler & Shlomo Benartzi, 2004. "Save More Tomorrow (TM): Using Behavioral Economics to Increase Employee Saving," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(S1), pages S164-S187, February.
  11. Laibson, David I., 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," Scholarly Articles 4481499, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  12. Shane Frederick & George Loewenstein & Ted O'Donoghue, 2002. "Time Discounting and Time Preference: A Critical Review," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(2), pages 351-401, June.
  13. Stefano DellaVigna & Ulrike Malmendier, 2006. "Paying Not to Go to the Gym," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(3), pages 694-719, June.
  14. Becker, G.S., 1991. "Habits, Addictions, and Traditions," University of Chicago - Economics Research Center 91-8, Chicago - Economics Research Center.
  15. Frey, Bruno S & Jegen, Reto, 2001. " Motivation Crowding Theory," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 15(5), pages 589-611, December.
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