Money Rewards Help People to Eat Healthy

New research finds monetary rewards for performing healthy behavior result in both short and long term dividends.

Specifically, University of Colorado, Boulder researchers found the cash incentives pad the pocketbook and enhance internal motivation.

The study was designed to determine if the increasing popular approach to use monetary incentives to encourage healthy behavior is effective, and to gauge how participants fare once the incentives stop, said University of Colorado, Boulder doctoral student Casey Gardiner, who led the new study.

The study — which encouraged daily consumption of fruits and vegetables in exchange for payment — not only showed monetary incentives worked, but that participants increased their internal motivation to eat fruits and vegetables over time.

“Some psychological research and theories suggest that if individuals have external motivations like payment to perform tasks, their internal, or intrinsic motivation can be undermined,” said Gardiner.

“But in our study the subjects who had been assigned to receive payment for eating fruits and vegetables were still consuming more of them than usual two weeks after the study ended.”

In the study, 60 adults were randomly assigned to three different groups. Individuals in one group received one dollar for every serving of fruits and vegetables they reported consuming daily over a three-week period, with the money delivered daily by PayPal.

People in the second group accrued one dollar for every serving of fruits and vegetables eaten, with the money delivered in a lump sum at the end of the study. Participants in the third group reported their fruit and vegetable consumption daily for three weeks with no incentives.

Participants who received daily monetary incentives had the greatest increase in their fruit and vegetable consumption, Gardiner said.

“This finding highlights the importance of incentive design in health programs,” she said. “Differences in the timing or type of incentive can alter their effectiveness.”

Gardiner presented her findings at the Society of Behavioral Medicine’s 37th Annual Meeting & Scientific Sessions in Washington, D.C. The presentation is tied to an upcoming paper on the subject by Gardiner and University of Colorado, Boulder Professor Angela Bryan of the psychology and neuroscience department.

“One of our goals in the study was to look at potential psychological mechanisms that underlie incentive-induced changes in behavior,” said Gardiner.

“We essentially showed that incentives may be able to help people to ‘jumpstart’ behavior changes, but that changes in key psychological factors help people maintain the behavior when the incentives end.”

Increased fruit and vegetable consumption by participants was associated with more positive attitudes and self-efficacy. Self-efficacy, or the confidence in one’s own ability to succeed — is an important component for instilling a new behavior. In this case, the belief that a person has that they will continue consume the healthy produce, said Gardiner.

“The University of Colorado, Boulder findings provide a new direction for incentive research in terms of psychological factors related to changing behavior,” said Gardiner.

Source: University of Colorado, Boulder/EurekAlert