The New England Journal of Medicine has reported a study which reveals precious insights about human behavior and the way financial incentives work for health improvement.
The main challenge: quit smoking. The facts: patients divided into four groups, with certain, differentiated types of financial reward. Some study patients were offered care for smoking cessation, such as free nicotine replacement therapy. It seems that cash incentives were very productive for some of the patients, with a rate of smoking abstinence going up to 16% for those who were offered money for quitting. On the other hand, those who were only offered free smoking cessation therapy had only reported a 6% improvement.
There was yet another group, asked to give researchers a deposit of $150 that would be refunded if they reached the 6 months period without taking up smoking again. For the first smoking-free days, the group received $200, another 200 $ after a month and 400$ after 6 months of cigarette abstinence. To conclude, one is more inclined to take their promise seriously when losing money is involved. On the other hand, winning money for genuine promises also works as a great incentive.
There was a total number of 2538 participants in the study, all US residents. The research had different levels of operating, with certain kinds of rewards. There was the individual reward, based on performance, the group reward, based on group performance and the individual deposit, the measure that proved to be most productive. Among these methods researchers also appealed to usual care which has proved to be the most inefficient of methods.
On the other hand, it seems that financial incentives don’t do such a great job in performing for other kinds of treatments. Other two major studies with financial incentive as the main focus were conducted this year in Brooklyn and Washington. One offered HIV patients $280 a year to take their pills daily while the other offered $25 to take an HIV test and $100 to return and get the results.
Reports on the test have revealed a complete failure. The money incentives didn’t work well enough to motivate people. Researchers started thinking that more money could bring more dedication and it appears to be so, provided the numbers raise at $5000 a year in this particular case study, among both groups of study subjects.
It seems that our very obligation to take care of ourselves is not enough of a reason to take serious measures in this direction. When we don’t see the benefits of making an effort towards a healthier life, we tend to ignore a change that could give us more years of life and health. To become aware of our duties towards ourselves, we sometimes need incentives. And what could work better than money? Counseling doesn’t put food on the table but a financial incentive does, reason why it works so well when we need to get people into doing something. And if that “something” is beneficial to them, why not pay people to quit bad habits?
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