A new study from the University of Pennsylvania is adding credibility to the notion that humans are more motivated by the fear of losing out on something than they are by potential rewards. According to Fox News Health, the study focused on motivating individuals to lose weight by tracking activity with a step counter smartphone app and monetary consequences.
“Most people assume that people are rational, but we know that this is not true,” said study’s lead author Dr. Mitesh S. Patel of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “People are irrational but in predictable ways.”
The average adult in the United States takes approximately 5,000 steps per day, so for the study researchers asked participants to reach a goal of 7,000 steps per day. A total of 281 overweight or obese adult employees were used in the study, which lasted for 13 weeks.
Subjects were divided into four groups. One group was told they would be given $1.40 every day their goal was met, another was given a monthly incentive stipend of $42, but with the caveat they would lose $1.40 every day the goal was not met. A third group drew lottery numbers and the winning number received $50, but only if they hit their goal on the previous day of the random drawing. The control group received no incentives whatsoever.
Winning the lottery can motivate people to quit their jobs (52% of winners do so), but apparently it’s not the best motivator when it comes to fitness and money. Still, that group’s step count goal was hit 36% of the time compared to the reward incentive group, which came in right behind them at 35%.
The best motivator proved to be the loss incentive group though with the goal being met 45% of the time. The control group met their quota just 30% of the time, according to the research that was reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
“According to a few seminal behavioral economics experiments, people don’t like losing something twice as much as they like gaining the same thing, as a rule of thumb,” said Marc Mitchell of the University of Toronto, who was not part of the study.