Christopher Ingraham shared in The Washington Post that according to Richard Thaler, the University of Chicago economist who last year won a Nobel Prize in part for his work on the subject, a “nudge” is a policy intervention that “alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives.”
Nudges are typically used to get people to do things that are good for them or for society as a whole, but which they may be otherwise disinclined to do. Famous nudges include flies painted on urinals, giving men a target to aim at and thereby reducing spillage; automatic 401(k) enrollment; and getting people to use less electricity by showing them how much their neighbors are using.
One type of nudge that has shown great promise is the planning prompt, which asks people to lay out the concrete steps they will take to achieve a certain goal. Research says these prompts are effective at getting people to do things such as vote, get their flu shots and go to the dentist.
What about going to the gym?
That’s what the team of researchers behind a new working paper set out to discover when they ran a randomized field experiment among 877 members of a private gym in the Midwest. In the realm of exercise, in particular, a notoriously large gap exists “between intentions and actions,” as the researchers put it. Most Americans know they should exercise more, but fewer than a quarter of them get the federally recommended amount of physical activity each week. A 2015 experiment conducted among workers at a Fortune 500 company found that “workers’ targeted levels of exercise are 43 percent higher than their actual levels of exercise,” according to the new paper’s authors.