Promoting Physical Activity Through Prosocial Incentives on Mobile Platforms
39 Pages Posted: 10 Nov 2021 Last revised: 2 Mar 2022
Date Written: November 10, 2021
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
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