Nudging People to Exercise

Ian Ayres has long advocated the use of commitment contracts in achieving dieting and weight loss goals. Alan M. Garber and Jeremy D. Goldhaber-Fiebert write about their research on commitment contracts and exercise. In an experiment, they found that “[a]mong 619 individuals aged 18-69 years who were randomly shown a default contract duration of ’8 weeks,’ ’12 weeks,’ or ’16 weeks,’ those shown a longer default duration were more likely to choose a contract of a longer duration with a large proportion simply choosing whatever default value they were shown.” Furthermore, “[t]he results thus far show that individuals who were nudged into longer contracts did not commit to less exercise per week, nor did they choose smaller financial penalties for not fulfilling their longer contracts.” Preliminary findings from a follow-up study confirm the role of nudges in exercise.

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  1. Ian Kemmish says:

    “Preliminary” indeed. Given such flagrant evidence of laziness, it would be interesting to see a follow-up study to see how many see their contracts though. And whether success or failure in fulfilling the contract affects one’s willingness to enter into more such contracts in the future. That study would take some years to complete.

    After all, the aim is not to get people to enter lightly into contracts, nor even to start one such contract. The aim is to improve health in the long term.

    (As an errant thought, is it possible to “nudge” economists into thinking like scientist or engineers, and imagining every possible think that can go wrong, every possible counterexample which could embarrass them, before committing pen to paper?)

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    • SPOONER83 says:

      “As an errant thought, is it possible to “nudge” economists into thinking like scientist or engineers, and imagining every possible think that can go wrong, every possible counterexample which could embarrass them, before committing pen to paper?”

      Probably not. Nor is it likely possible to get posters to proof read what they write–at least, not everythink.

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  2. Bill McGonigle says:

    Well, the website is freaked, but I’m also wonder what the efficacy is of each duration contract (and the effect of the choice of the participant). If they’re all equally successful, then, sure the shorter contract is the best one – increase the chances of compliance and increase the odds of doing it again.

    @Ian: engineers can get sued if their bridges fall down; economists get promoted if their economies fall down.

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  3. student says:

    I believe that commitment contracts work to the better good at solving the general health crisis in America. It gives Americans an extra incentive at changing their lives and working to a more healthy and physically fit lifestyle. The idea of commitment contracts will strengthen the determination of the people to going to the gym and dieting more.

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  4. x_crystal says:

    A commitment contract, to me, is the same thing as a contract. If a person wants to break the contract, they can. What’s the worst that can happen to a person that breaks a commitment contract? Oh, they’ll get fat. That’s their problem. We do not have to try to force a commitment onto people because it will not work. It is just the same old thing as telling a person to do something and whether or not they follow through with it.

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  5. Michelle says:

    I remember reading an article saying that those who had something valuable on the line were more likely to to complete their weight loss goals. It would be great if Americans could use this to battle obesity, but where exactly would we find the means to make this contract for everyone who needs or wants it?

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  6. Michael says:

    I prefer Tim Ferriss’ idea. Pay $400 per month for the gym and get $25 back each time you go. The gym also takes photos of you in your underwear and will publish them on the internet if you do not meet your weight loss goals.

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  7. Stu says:

    Yep people generally need some form of motivation otherwise in the end they usually give up unless they see immediate results. Certainly a nudge in the right direction cannot hurt and can only help someone to strive to better themselves

    Stu @

    http://www.neck-pain-exercises.com

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