Journal of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 37, Issue 5, pp 819–827 | Cite as

Financial motivation undermines potential enjoyment in an intensive diet and activity intervention

  • Arlen C. MollerEmail author
  • Joanna Buscemi
  • H. Gene McFadden
  • Donald Hedeker
  • Bonnie Spring


The use of material incentives in healthy lifestyle interventions is becoming widespread. However, self-determination theory (SDT) posits that when material incentives are perceived as controlling, they undermine intrinsic motivation. We analyzed data from the Make Better Choices trial—a trial testing strategies for improving four risk behaviors: low fruit–vegetable intake, high saturated fat intake, low physical activity, and high sedentary activity. At baseline, participants reported the degree to which financial incentives were an important motivator (financial motivation); self-reported enjoyment of each behavior was assessed before and after the 3-week incentivization phase. Consistent with SDT, after controlling for general motivation and group assignment, lower financial motivation predicted more adaptive changes in enjoyment. Whereas participants low in financial motivation experienced adaptive changes, adaptive changes were suppressed among those high in financial motivation.


Financial incentives Intrinsic motivation Affect Undermining Diet Physical activity 



The Make Better Choices trial was supported by National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant HL075451 to Dr. Spring, by the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center Grant (NIH P30 CA060553), and by NIH F31 MH070107 to Dr. Schneider. We thank Sarah Altman, Katherine Bailey, Katty Cavero, Michael J. Coons, Neil Doran, Anne Maloney, Dennis McChargue, Sherry Pagoto, Anjali Pandit, Jim Painter, Michael Painter, Christine Dutton Pellegrini, Alex Pictor, Natalie Ritchie, Megan Roehrig, and Stephanie Russell for their contributions and technical assistance.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Arlen C. Moller
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Joanna Buscemi
    • 2
    • 3
  • H. Gene McFadden
    • 2
  • Donald Hedeker
    • 4
  • Bonnie Spring
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyIllinois Institute of TechnologyChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Department of Preventive MedicineNorthwestern UniversityChicagoUSA
  3. 3.Institute for Health Research and PolicyUniversity of Illinois at ChicagoChicagoUSA
  4. 4.Division of Epidemiology and BiostatisticsUniversity of Illinois at ChicagoChicagoUSA

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