Physical activity is known to help reduce obesity and the problems that accompany it. Walking has many benefits that make it an excellent way for obese people to increase their physical activity. It is hard, however, for people to stick with walking programs. Setting specific and challenging walking targets that are combined with timely feedback about discrepancies between desired and actual performance can lead to higher levels of performance. There is conflicting theory and evidence about the effects of publicly announcing those targets on commitment to the targets and on performance.
This project questioned whether public announcements reduce the challenge level of commitments people set, and whether the reputational consequence of public announcements is severe enough to increase performance. The investigators conducted a controlled trial that integrated Facebook with the use of pedometers to monitor walking in order to test the effect of public announcements on commitments and step counts.
All participants in the study wore a pedometer and uploaded results via the Internet for 14 to 15 weeks. In the first two to three weeks, the investigators determined the participant's baseline step counts. Based on that data, investigators recommended a daily step count target for the remaining 12 weeks, based on the median number of steps the participants walked the previous week. Each week, participants set a commitment by stating the number of days in the following week that they would meet the computer-set step count target.
Commitments were entered into an interface that linked with Facebook and participants selected which of their Facebook friends would receive their commitments and/or results via Facebook posts. The interface distributed those posts in a way that fit in with existing online social practices.
This project reflected the granting foundation's goals to apply the principles and frameworks of behavioral economics to uncover solutions to persistent and perplexing health and healthcare problems and to discover and test interventions that have potential to transform the way healthcare is delivered and health is promoted and preserved.
Once the results from this study are collected and examined, the investigators hope to learn the best practices for using public announcements and online social networks to encourage people to exercise more or to otherwise promote wellness.
To view more information about the study and the methodologies involved, please follow the link here.