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Following Through on Good Intentions: The Power of Planning Prompts


  • Katherine L. Milkman
  • John Beshears
  • James J. Choi
  • David Laibson
  • Brigitte C. Madrian


We study whether prompts to form and recall a plan can increase individuals' responsiveness to reminders to make and attend beneficial appointments. At four companies, all employees due for a colonoscopy were randomly assigned to receive either a control mailing or a treatment mailing. The mailings were identical except that the control mailing included a blank sticky note while the treatment mailing included a sticky note that prompted the recipient to write down the appointment date for a colonoscopy and the name of the doctor who would conduct the procedure. During the seven-month follow-up period, 7.2% of treatment employees received a colonoscopy compared to 6.2% of control employees, a statistically significant difference that is roughly equal to the variation in compliance associated with a 10 percent increase in the fraction of the procedure's cost covered by insurance. The treatment effect was largest for demographic groups judged to be at the highest risk of failing to receive a colonoscopy due to forgetfulness.

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  • Katherine L. Milkman & John Beshears & James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian, 2012. "Following Through on Good Intentions: The Power of Planning Prompts," NBER Working Papers 17995, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17995
    Note: AG HC HE

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Matthew Rabin & Ted O'Donoghue, 1999. "Doing It Now or Later," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(1), pages 103-124, March.
    2. Bamberg, Sebastian, 2002. "Implementation intention versus monetary incentive comparing the effects of interventions to promote the purchase of organically produced food," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 23(5), pages 573-587, October.
    3. Milkman, Katherine L. & Beshears, John & Choi, James J. & Laibson, David I. & Madrian, Brigitte, 2011. "Using Implementation Intentions Prompts to Enhance Influenza Vaccination Rates," Scholarly Articles 8057976, Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
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    Cited by:

    1. Saugato Datta & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2014. "Behavioral Design: A New Approach to Development Policy," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 60(1), pages 7-35, March.
    2. Lindsay C. Page & Judith Scott-Clayton, 2015. "Improving College Access in the United States: Barriers and Policy Responses," NBER Working Papers 21781, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Altmann, Steffen & Traxler, Christian, 2014. "Nudges at the dentist," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 72(C), pages 19-38.
    4. Elizabeth W. Cavadel & Jacqueline F. Kauff & Mary Anne Anderson & Sheena McConnell & Michelle Derr, "undated". "Self-Regulation and Goal Attainment: A New Perspective for Employment Programs," Mathematica Policy Research Reports e49aff23628f45bd847fd2e86, Mathematica Policy Research.
    5. Page, Lindsay C. & Scott-Clayton, Judith, 2016. "Improving college access in the United States: Barriers and policy responses," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 51(C), pages 4-22.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles
    • D91 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making
    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior

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