Is It Better to Give Than to Receive? Leveraging Digital Social Connections for Healthy Behavior
51 Pages Posted: 11 May 2018
Date Written: April 27, 2018
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: Suggested Citation