Advancing Behavior Change Among Older Adults: When and Why Financial Incentives Succeed or Fail
Behavior change interventions commonly use incentives, which can be either financial or social. These two types of incentives are fundamentally different and may not be interchangeable but we currently lack a strong rationale for choosing one or the other. In response, this pilot study begins a new line of research investigating when financial incentives are most likely to succeed. This line of research will also identify the circumstances under which social incentives are ideal means of changing behavior. Frequently, each type of incentive generates disappointing results but if we can systematically predict when each type is most likely to succeed, this evidence can advance behavioral science and improve outcomes.
We propose to focus on older populations and other vulnerable populations because financial incentives, like social incentives, may work better for some populations than others. For example, financial incentives may increase physical activity for certain populations or even the overall population, but they can exacerbate health disparities if they have no effect, or an adverse effect, for a vulnerable population. The most effective type of incentive may also depend on the behavior that is being incentivized. For this reason, we will study several important behaviors that greatly benefit public health and reduce health care needs. This research program will be pursued by a cross-school, cross-disciplinary team of scientists with expertise in economics, psychology, and health policy research.