Steps commitments: are public commitments more or less effective than private ones?

Paul Resnick

Professor Paul Resnick, School of Information, U-M

Sedentary lifestyles are creating serious health problems in America. Even moderate activity, such as walking, has significant health benefits. Many people would, in principle, like to walk more, but find it difficult to do so in practice. Pedometer-based walking programs help people set walking goals and provide feedback on progress toward meeting those goals. How can the addition of social elements make pedometer-based walking programs even more compelling and effective?

During the winter/spring of 2012, we will be deploying a test of public vs. private commitments. All participants will be given FitBit pedometers, which upload step counts to the Internet. A computer program will set daily targets for participants, who will then commit to meeting those targets some number of days in the coming week. For some, the commitments will stay private. For others, the commitments and results will be posted on as Facebook status messages and emailed to three friends.

One REU student can participate in this project this summer. The student will analyze data from the study, help us write up the results for publication, and help us plan the next round of research. The student who joins the project should have some experience with statistical analysis and good writing skills. The student will learn about experimental methods for field experiments. The student will be mentored by Prof. Paul Resnick and Prof. Erin Krupka.