Promoting Physical Activity Through Prosocial Incentives on Mobile Platforms

38 Pages Posted: 10 Nov 2021

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

The proliferation of mobile applications provides new opportunities to promote users' physical activity, which is crucial for health and well-being. The prior literature has discussed the effectiveness of designing incentives for physical activity, such as financial and social incentives. Yet, little is known about the effectiveness of the prosocial incentive, another increasingly popular incentive adopted by many platforms. By combining a field experiment of more than 40 million users and observational analysis on a giant social network platform in East Asia, we provide evidence of the effectiveness of prosocial incentives on promoting physical activity. Specifically, by reminding users to engage in an online event named ``step donation'' which associates users' step counts with donation received by charities, our experiment estimates an average increase of 1000 steps for users being encouraged to engage in this event. To supplement the experiment result, we further conduct matching on observational data to compare the effects between prosocial (step donation) and social incentive (another feature named step ranking), finding that the prosocial incentive may even be more effective than the social incentive in our sample. 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, step donation

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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