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Copying Friends May Help You Achieve Your Goals

Struggling to achieve your life improvement goals, such as exercising or saving for retirement?

A new study shows that people who struggle with their self-set improvement goals can benefit by emulating the successful strategies used by their friends.

The study found that encouraging people to find and mimic exercise strategies used by their friends increased the amount of time they spent exercising compared to receiving an exercise strategy passively.

In the study, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and a psychologist at UPenn introduce the concept of the “copy-paste prompt,” a nudge that encourages people to seek out and mimic a goal-achievement strategy used by an acquaintance.

Copy-paste prompts “are easy to implement, virtually costless, and widely applicable with the potential to improve outcomes ranging from healthy eating to academic success,” said the authors, Katie S. Mehr, Amanda E. Geiser, Katherine L. Milkman and Dr. Angela L. Duckworth, in the paper “Copy-Paste-Prompts: A New Nudge to Promote Goal Achievement.”

Copy-paste prompts may be more effective than other methods for boosting goal achievement for several reasons — behaviors are more appealing when learned from observation, plus learning from models increases both a person’s expectations of their own abilities and their likelihood of using information, the researchers explained.

However, people may not take full advantage of opportunities to observe and emulate others in their social network. In this case, copy-paste prompts may add value by helping them better take advantage of this resource, the researchers noted.

And there’s a bonus: The information is more customized and goal relevant, since people select peers whose behavior they want to emulate, the researchers added.

In the longitudinal study, more than 1,000 participants were asked how many hours they spent exercising in the last week. They were then randomly assigned to one of three conditions: The copy-paste prompt condition, a quasi-yoked control condition, or a simple control condition.

In the copy-paste prompt condition, participants read the following:

“In this study, we want to help you learn about an effective hack or strategy that someone you know uses as motivation to exercise. Over the next two days, we’d like you to pay attention to how people you know get themselves to work out. If you want, you can ask them directly for their motivational tips and strategies.”

In the quasi-yoked control condition, participants read the following:

“In this study, we’re hoping to help you learn about an effective hack or strategy that motivates people to exercise. Over the next two days, we’d like you to get ready to learn a new strategy to motivate you to exercise.”

The participants who received the copy-paste prompt spent more time exercising the following week than participants assigned to either a quasi-yoked or simple control condition, according to the study’s findings.

“The benefits of copy-paste prompts are mediated by the usefulness of the adopted exercise strategy, commitment to using it, effort put into finding it, and the frequency of social interaction with people who exercise regularly,” the researchers said in the study, which was  published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research. 

The researchers add they believe the new technique could improve the user’s life in many ways.

It may be, they say, that once a person learns to copy-paste in one part of their lives, such as exercise, “she will be able to apply this technique in a way that improves many other outcomes (for example, retirement savings).”

Source: University of Chicago Press Journals

Copying Friends May Help You Achieve Your Goals

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2020). Copying Friends May Help You Achieve Your Goals. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 9, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2020/05/30/copying-friends-may-help-you-achieve-your-goals/156943.html
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 31 May 2020 (Originally: 30 May 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 31 May 2020
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.