Temptation Coupling

We’re more likely to do the hard stuff when tightly coupled with something tempting.

Temptation Coupling

We’re more likely to do the hard stuff when tightly coupled with something tempting.

In a fascinating study on improving gym attendance, researchers have found that people who were allowed to access tempting audiobooks of their choice ONLY when they were in the gym were more likely to attend!

Milkman, Minson & Volpp (2013) Holding the Hunger Games Hostage at the Gym: An Evaluation of Temptation Bundling. Management Science

Interestingly, this study found that when people were allowed to listen to these audiobooks outside of the gym, they were less likely to attend compared to those who had restricted audiobook access. And amongst those with restricted access, the largest effects were found for those who had the busiest schedules. Put another way, if you’re busy, like listening to audiobooks and need to work out at the gym, doing both of these things at once can save you considerable amounts of time.

At the end of the study, everybody was entered into a lottery where they had the exciting chance of winning an iPod packed full of audiobooks. If they won, they were asked whether they’d be willing to pay researchers to take the iPod away from them, with access only being given when at the gym. Surprisingly, a whopping 61% of participants agreed to do this! Just what now??? That we’re so willing is crazy, really…

And it just seems so irrational, doesn’t it? To think that people are willing to pay for a restriction, when they can access the same stuff when they want, and for free too! But as soon as you start to think of the iPod as a tool to help you keep up with your commitment (what’s known as a commitment device) to stay fit, temptation bundling starts to make sense. You want to stay committed to the gym, so if you know that the Hunger Games audiobook can get you get there, you’re willing to pay for using it. Those of us who engage in health-related behaviours often show an intention to stay committed to their health goals, and if temptation bundling can help them do this, it may just be the commitment device of the future.

Key takeaways for Decision-Makers

  1. Rewarding health For a food retailer, nudging certain choices could be rewarded with greater loyalty incentives. For instance, Itsu, a high street healthy Japanese food retailer in the UK could temptation-bundle double loyalty stamps for its low-carb, high-protein healthier (perhaps less indulgent) meals. This has the combined effect of powerfully associating brand loyalty alongside making the customer feel that you’re looking after their health interests and personal life goals.
  2. Harmonising loyalty and life goals In relation to the above point, companies that can mindfully combine loyalty programmes with a fulfilment of deeply-entrenched customer desires will succeed in this space. This is the future of loyalty.
  3. Location-unlocking This bias suggests that products designed to allow app access, either to the service or specific content only when the user is in a specific location (using techniques such as iBeacons, geo-fencing etc) can change behaviour for the better.
  4. A throwaway idea On the street, a Smart Bin could respond favourably when you place recyclables into the appropriate section, giving positive sensory feedback in some way. On the other hand, placing rubbish into the ‘landfill’ section of the bin results in no such positive feedback mechanism. Do the right thing, and get rewarded for it.
  5. Workplace incentivization As a decision-maker, consider the areas that your employees or co-workers struggle to maintain, important habits that are hard to engrain, or processes that are sometimes subject to corner-cutting. Assess what unique, sustainable and meaningful benefits you could use to make complying with these practices a lot more attractive. For example, the person manning the shared support phone gets the free coffee card for the week.

Further Reading

Holding the Hunger Games Hostage at the Gym: An Evaluation of Temptation Bundling PDF (Milkman, Minson & Volpp, 2013)

Tying Odysseus to the Mast: Evidence from a Commitment Savings Product in the Philippines PDF (Ashraf, Karlan & Yin, 2004)

Stickk - A commitment device Web service

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