To encourage a distasteful but desirable activity like eating less or exercising more, a behavioral economist would suggest a commitment device.
Here are some commitment devices:
Where are we going: To a closer look at one commitment device.
Most mornings, I walk four miles and listen to podcasts or books. Because I want to listen to an interesting podcast or a junky book and I should exercise daily, I am temptation bundling. When you temptation bundle, “wants” and “shoulds” are combined.
But does it really work?
Researchers from Penn and Harvard took a close look at temptation bundling at a university campus gym by dividing a group of volunteers into three groups. Everyone in the first group was given an iPod loaded with tempting page turner novels that could be accessed only when at the gym. Also receiving the iPods with the books, the second group of participants was encouraged to restrict their listening to the gym but not required to do so. The third group, acting as the control, got iPods, a $25 Barnes & Noble gift certificate, a sample workout and a reminder that exercising is good for your health.
The results confirmed most of the researchers expectations. Group 1’s workouts exceeded the control group by 51 percent and for Group 2, 29 percent more. So yes, temptation bundling did increase the frequency of the undesirable activity—the “should.” But, after a temporary break for Thanksgiving, its impact for all groups diminished precipitously.
Our Bottom Line: Cost and Benefit
Temptation bundling is a commitment device that lowers cost and increases benefit. One way to explain the temptation bundling phenomenon is that the cost (guilt) from a “want” goes down while the benefit from a “should” goes up. The result, shown below, is more utility.