View this email in your browser

Behavior Change for Good Newsletter

We’re excited to share what Behavior Change for Good (BCFG) has been up to over the last few months. We have updates from our biennial conference, an interview with Professor John Beshears about his work on health and financial decision-making, a new BCFG study on how giving advice improves student outcomes, and much more. Thanks for your interest in changing behavior for good!

Katy Milkman and Angela Duckworth
Co-Directors of the Behavior Change for Good Initiative

Team BCFG in Philadelphia (June 2019)

On June 6th, we hosted over 80 scientists and industry partners at our biennial conference. Nobel Laureate Richard Thaler closed the event with a keynote conversation with Linda Babcock, and National Academy of Sciences member Robert Cialdini opened the day in dialogue with Noah Goldstein. We shared results from our first mega-studies, and numerous team scientists reported on new insights from their research. Check out our website for more great conference content.

Freakonomics Radio: How Goes the Behavior-Change Revolution?

Our conference was capped off with a live taping of Freakonomics Radio in the Merriam Theater in downtown Philadelphia (for a sellout crowd) featuring the work we’re doing at BCFG.

BCFG Featured Article: The Benefits of Giving Advice


A Large-Scale Field Experiment Shows Giving Advice Improves Academic Outcomes for the Advisor

The results of an early BCFG experiment were recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper reports on a large randomized controlled trial (N=1,982) conducted in partnership with the Character Lab Research Network, which shows that asking high school students to give advice about helpful study habits significantly improves their own grades.

Hear from the authors:

Choiceology with Katy Milkman: Your Own Advice

Katy Milkman talks with two of the study's authors - Angela Duckworth and Lauren Eskries-Winkler - about the surpirising benefits to people's own behavior when they give advice to others.

Spotlight: Changing Behavior with Team Scientist John Beshears

John Beshears is a behavioral economist and the Terrie F. and Bradley M. Bloom Associate Professor of Business Administration in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets Unit. Professor Beshears focuses on understanding household financial decisions and health-care choices. BCFG recently chatted with John about his current work and its implications for behavior change:

Could you summarize a recent project you’ve been involved with that has relevant insights for the BCFG Initiative?
I recently completed a paper reporting the results of a study designed to help employees at a large technology company develop exercise habits. Employees signed up for a month-long program, and they specified a two-hour window that would generally be the best time of day for them to go to the company gym. Employees were then randomly assigned to different groups. Some groups—the “flexible incentive” groups—received a monetary reward for each time they visited the gym during the month-long program. Other groups—the “routine incentive” groups—received monetary rewards for each gym visit, but only if the visit began during their chosen two-hour window. A final group acted as a control group and did not receive monetary rewards. We were able to track gym attendance during and after the program because employees swiped their company identification badges at the gym entrance.
Consistent with past research, the flexible incentive groups exercised more than the control group both during and after the program. The monetary rewards helped motivate them to visit the gym during the program, but even when the program was finished and monetary rewards were no longer offered, they continued to visit the gym because of the habits that they developed.
The comparison between the flexible and routine incentive groups is even more interesting. Recent research in the psychology of habit formation indicates that routines—performing a behavior at the same time of day, in the same location, and generally in the same environmental context—are important for developing habits. During our month-long program, the routine incentive groups visited the gym more frequently during their chosen two-hour exercise window than did the flexible incentive groups. The routine incentive groups might therefore be expected to have more persistent exercise habits after the program was finished. However, we found that the routine incentive groups had less exercise activity than the flexible incentive groups after the program. This is an important finding because it highlights a drawback of routinization. Routines may be integral to successful habits, but managers and policy makers who try to use this insight when encouraging the development of beneficial habits may face challenges. Incentives for routines may fail because they are overly rigid and conflict with the reality of people’s fast-paced, unpredictable day-to-day schedules.

How effective are behavioral nudges compared to other policy solutions for bringing about positive behavior change?

Behavioral nudges are a powerful tool for promoting positive behavior change. To highlight this fact, my colleagues and I analyzed recent research on techniques for changing behavior in four policy areas: financial well-being, energy conservation, education, and health. We identified one key behavior per policy area (e.g., college attendance in the education category), and for each key behavior, we examined studies measuring the effect of a nudge or a traditional intervention (e.g., financial incentives or information provision) on that behavior. Relative to traditional interventions, nudges were more impactful per dollar spent, sometimes by as much as a factor of 100. A major reason for this difference is that nudges are often inexpensive to deploy. It might be tempting to conclude that nudges should replace other policy solutions, but this would be a mistake. Nudges are powerful in part because they help people take advantage of existing traditional policies, for example by helping people take advantage of a financial incentive. Increased investment in nudge interventions is warranted, especially when they are used to complement traditional policies.
Can people use the same behavioral science strategies to improve their financial and physical health?
In many cases, the answer is yes, and the reason has to do with the common psychology underlying many counterproductive financial behaviors and health behaviors. One major psychological factor leading to such behaviors is present bias, the tendency to place disproportionately high weight on costs and benefits that accrue in the present moment relative to future costs and benefits. Present bias leads people to spend too much money now instead of saving it for later, and it also leads people to underinvest in inconvenient preventive health behaviors now that pay off in the form of improved future health. A behavioral science strategy that assists people in overcoming present bias may be able to help address both types of problems. For example, a pre-commitment strategy, which asks people to commit now to save more in the future or to engage in a preventive health behavior in the future, does not incur inconvenience in the present and so does not trigger present bias, but it can promote savings and improved health for the long run.

Books: New and Recent Releases Written by BCFG Scientists

We’re excited to share three excellent books released by BCFG Team Scientists. The first is a new release by Wendy Wood (Good Habits, Bad Habits), in which she shares insights from her pioneering research on how we form habits, and what we can do with this knowledge to make positive, enduring changes in our lives. The other selections feature some great reads that have come out in the last few years: Eli Finkel offers science-backed strategies to make marriages better (The All or Nothing Marriage) and Francesca Gino explains the benefits of cultivating rebellion in our professional and personal lives (Rebel Talent).

Recommended Podcasts Featuring BCFG Team Scientists

Talking Green with Michael Norton: Inheriting Family Money (Habits)

BCFG Team Scientist Michael Norton discusses the ways our families influence our financial habits and how we can change these patterns.

The Happiness Lab with Laurie Santos: You Can Change

BCFG Team Scientist Laurie Santos shares the science-backed changes we can make right now to increase our happiness.

Recent Publications Shared with Us by BCFG Team Scientists

Agnew, J., & Mitchell, O.S. (2019). The disruptive impact of FinTech on retirement systems.  Oxford University Press.      
Bryan, C. J., Yeager, D. S., & Hinojosa, C. P. (2019). A values-alignment intervention protects adolescents from the effects of food marketing. Nature: Human Behavior
Hershfield, H. E. & Maglio, S. J. (2019). Where does the present end and the future begin? Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.                                     
Peyton, K., Sierra-Arevalo, M., & Rand, D. G. (2019). A field experiment on community policing and police legitimacy. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Yeager, D.S., et al. (2019). A national experiment reveals where a growth mindset improves achievement. Nature: Human Behavior
Yoeli, E., Rathauser, J., Bhanot, S. P., Kimenye, M. K., Masini, E., Owiti, P., & Rand, D. (2019). Digital health support in treatment for tuberculosis. New England Journal of Medicine.

About BCFG

The Behavior Change for Good Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania is co-led by Psychology Professor Angela Duckworth and Wharton Professor Katy Milkman. BCFG unites leaders in the social sciences, medicine, computer science, and neuroscience to propel science forward on enduring behavior change.

We’re always interested in hearing about new areas to explore and potential collaborations. Contact us anytime.
Copyright © 2019 Behavior Change for Good, All rights reserved.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp