Is It Better to Give Than to Receive? Leveraging Digital Social Connections for Healthy Behavior

51 Pages Posted: 11 May 2018

See all articles by Che-Wei Liu

Che-Wei Liu

University of Maryland, Robert H. Smith School of Business, Students

Guodong (Gordon) Gao

University of Maryland - R.H. Smith School of Business

Ritu Agarwal

University of Maryland - Robert H. Smith School of Business

Date Written: April 27, 2018

Abstract

Motivating individuals to engage in healthy behavior has long persisted as a major challenge in society. Although self-interest based financial incentives have been widely deployed, there is a pressing need to improve their effectiveness. We investigate a new motivational incentive that is based on reciprocity and can be leveraged in conjunction with financial incentives to promote desirable behavior. We conducted a large randomized field experiment with over 1,700 pairs of users on a mobile social network platform. Individuals in our experiment receive a gift from their friends, and are asked to return this favor by participating in a challenge related to physical activity. We find that on average, reciprocity outperforms self-interest in motivating individuals to exercise more. Importantly, our results reveal that the magnitude of the reciprocity effect is contingent on the social closeness between senders and receivers. Interestingly, social closeness has an inverted U-shaped influence on the reciprocity effect. The effect is strongest when closeness is moderate, and wanes when closeness is either too strong or too weak. Compared to the widely-used self-interest based financial incentives, our findings offer a potentially more powerful avenue for mechanism design in promoting healthy behavior. This mechanism can be implemented cost-effectively with improved precision for better outcomes using today’s ubiquitous digital social connections and wearable devices.

Keywords: Reciprocity, Self-Interest, Healthy Behavior, Financial Incentive, Social Connections, Social Closeness

JEL Classification: I12

Suggested Citation

Liu, Che-Wei and Gao, Guodong (Gordon) and Agarwal, Ritu, Is It Better to Give Than to Receive? Leveraging Digital Social Connections for Healthy Behavior (April 27, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3162223 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3162223

Che-Wei Liu (Contact Author)

University of Maryland, Robert H. Smith School of Business, Students ( email )

College Park, MD
United States

Guodong (Gordon) Gao

University of Maryland - R.H. Smith School of Business ( email )

4325 Van Munching Hall
College Park, MD 20742
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.rhsmith.umd.edu/faculty/ggao/

Ritu Agarwal

University of Maryland - Robert H. Smith School of Business ( email )

College Park, MD 20742-1815
United States

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