Science of Behaviour: GymPact App Pays You To Keep That Gym Resolution But Will It Work?

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Credit: Microsoft Online ClipArt Gallery
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So here's a weird concept: would you work out more if you were paid to go to the gym? And if you had to pay for missing your workouts? Welcome to an app called GymPact.

Basically, you make a pact: pledge how much you want to be fined for missing workouts, and then start hitting the gym. Or not. If you do, you get paid from a pool of cash collected from all the other participants who failed to meet their commitment that week. If you don't, you help to pay the other people who did fulfill their healthful duty. Simple, easy. But would it get you to the gym?

Let's take a look at the science.

Research into financial incentives for behaviour change, especially as it relates to health and fitness, are somewhat inconclusive: it would seem that a financial reward might have positive short-term impact, but that they may not result in consistent behaviour improvement in the long run. In "Using Financial Incentives to Achieve Healthy Behaviour", researchers Theresa Marteau, Richard Ashcroft and Adam Oliver reviewed studies related to financial incentives and concluded:
Disincentives, in the form of tobacco and alcohol taxes, are known to affect behaviour, but the effect of positive financial incentives is less clear. In theory, they work on learning theory principles by providing an immediate reward for behaviours that usually provide health gains in the longer term. They also capitalise on “present bias,” a tendency for many of us to pursue smaller immediate rewards instead of rewards that are distant but more highly valued.
In "When and Why Incentives (Don’t) Work to Modify Behavior" published in the Jounral of Economic Perspectives (love that title), Uri Gneezy, Stephan Meier, and Pedro Rey-Biel examined multiple scenarios in which financial incentives could be used to modify behaviour. With respect to fitness behaviour, they found that a one-time incentive was not as effective as a requirement for recurring visits to the gym in order for remuneration. However, they do find that an external device (like an app) could help reinforce the behaviour change:
In the case of exercise, establishing a habit by requiring multiple and frequent visits seems necessary—especially for those who have little or no previous habit of exercising. A self-commitment device, or even just a decision that would impel us to go to the gym for a month before evaluating the cost and benefit of exercising, may result in a different assessment of the net value of the activity.
So the jury is out from a scientific perspective: it's really up to you and how much you want it. I mean, you do have to choose to use the app first of all. Then, consider whether making or losing $5 or so each time you hit or skip the gym be enough of an incentive to get you to go. Do you think it would it work for you?

(Source: Fast Company)