Examining the impact of setting different behavioral goals to maximize an individual's physical activity

The Foundation's initiative, Applying Behavioral Economics to Perplexing Problems in Health and Health care, was designed to: (1) apply the principles and frameworks of behavioral economics to uncover pioneering solutions to persistent and perplexing health and health care problems and (2) discover and test interventions that have breakthrough potential to transform the way health care is delivered and health is promoted and preserved.This grant supports three studies of feedback conditions predicted to have different motivating effects on walking in an effort to find the best way to maximize physical activity. Walking is a common physical activity and plays a vital role in preventing obesity and other chronic health conditions. People often use feedback to track and motivate improvement in healthy behaviors. First, the research team will give participants a goal of a number of steps per day that represents a small, medium or large increase relative to their current walking regimen. Based on prospect theory in behavioral economics, we expect the medium-increase condition to promote the greatest increase in walking. Second, participants will have a daily goal versus subgoals for portions of the day (e.g., 3,000 steps before lunch). Mental accounting, another economic concept, predicts that subgoals will be more effective. In the third study, the pedometers used to count steps in walking will count up from 0 to the goal (gain frame) or down from the goal to 0 (loss frame), with the latter predicted to motivate greater walking. The team will submit results of the studies for presentation at a professional conference, such as the Society for Medical Decision Making and to academic journals in medicine and/or psychology.

Grant Details

Amount Awarded $100,000.00

Awarded on: 3/16/2012

Time frame: 4/1/2012 - 12/31/2013

Grant Number: 69921


Gretchen B. Chapman
Project Director


Elliot J. Coups
Project Director