“Creating Exercise Habits Using Incentives: The Tradeoff between Flexibility and Routinization” with Katherine L. Milkman, UPenn
BEHAVIORAL SCIENCES WORKSHOP
ABSTRACT: How can the formation of beneficial, lasting habits be promoted? Previous research suggests that persistent habits often involve regular, cue-triggered routines. We conducted a field experiment with 2,508 employees of a Fortune 500 company to test whether incentives for exercise routines—paying participants each time they visit a company gym within a daily two-hour window— lead to more persistent exercise behavior than flexible exercise incentives—paying participants each time they visit a company gym, regardless of the time of day. We find that an incremental incentivized gym visit in the routine condition, compared to an incremental incentivized gym visit in the flexible condition, actually generated fewer gym visits during the weeks after incentives were removed. Thus, while routines may be a common and important component of many lasting habits, encouraging overly rigid routines can undermine habit formation.
Katherine Milkman is an associate professor at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and holds a secondary appointment at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. She has been named one of the world’s top 40 business school professors under 40 by Poets and Quants and her research uses big data to document the many ways individuals and groups deviate from making optimal decisions. In particular, she looks at what produces self-control failures and how to reduce them. (For self-control failures, think: undersaving for retirement, exercising too little, or eating too much junk food). Through her research, Milkman explores how to create wise choice architecture and nudge initiatives to guide customer and employee behavior in helpful directions.