Promoting Physical Activity Through Prosocial Incentives on Mobile Platforms

39 Pages Posted: 10 Nov 2021 Last revised: 2 Mar 2022

See all articles by Yuan Yuan

Yuan Yuan

Purdue University - Krannert School of Management

Christos Nicolaides

School of Economics and Management, University of Cyprus; Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management

Alex Pentland

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Dean Eckles

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sloan School of Management, Students; Facebook

Date Written: November 10, 2021

Abstract

Mobile devices and applications provide new opportunities to promote healthy physical activity. Existing applications and research trials have made use of financial, social, and prosocial incentives for physical activity. However, little is known about the effects of prosocial incentives in particular. Here we provide evidence on effects of prosocial incentives on promoting physical activity. In a field experiment with more than 40 million users on a giant social platform in Asia, we remind users to interact with a “step donation” feature that associates users’ step counts with third party donations to charities; we estimate that interacting with this feature causes users to take over 1,000 additional steps in the short run. To supplement these experimental results, we further conduct matching on observational data to compare the effects of prosocial (step donation) and social incentives (via a feature where users may be encouraged by social comparisons of steps among friends), yielding evidence that the prosocial incentive may have larger effects in our setting. Finally, we discuss plausible prosocial motivations that drive step donation engagement and use a regression discontinuity design to identify users likely driven by warm glow giving. Overall, our study shows the potential of leveraging prosocial incentives to encourage physical activity and sheds light on possible further improvements on the design of prosocial incentives.

Keywords: mobile health, prosocial behavior, warm glow giving

Suggested Citation

Yuan, Yuan and Nicolaides, Christos and Pentland, Alex and Eckles, Dean, Promoting Physical Activity Through Prosocial Incentives on Mobile Platforms (November 10, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3960420 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3960420

Yuan Yuan (Contact Author)

Purdue University - Krannert School of Management ( email )

1310 Krannert Building
West Lafayette, IN 47907-1310
United States

HOME PAGE: http://yuan-yy.com/

Christos Nicolaides

School of Economics and Management, University of Cyprus

1 Panepistimiou
Aglantzia CY-2109, 2109
Cyprus

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management ( email )

100 Main Street
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States

Alex Pentland

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
50 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

Dean Eckles

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sloan School of Management, Students ( email )

Cambridge, MA 02139
United States

Facebook ( email )

1601 Willow Rd.
Menlo Park, CA 94025
United States

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