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

Abstract

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.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Moderation: Gender To investigate whether gender moderated the relation between Financial Motivation and changes in liking FV, Fat, PA, and Sed, we next ran the above MANCOVA model adding Gender, and the 3-way interaction of Financial Motivation × Time × Gender. This 3-way interaction did not significantly predict changes in liking FV [F(1, 167) = 0.62, p = .43], liking Fat [F(1, 167) = 0.04, p = .85], liking PA [F(1, 167) = 1.28, p = .26], or liking Sed [F(1, 167) = 1.27, p = .26)].

    SES To investigate whether socioeconomic status moderated the relation between Financial Motivation and changes in liking FV, Fat, PA, and Sed, we next ran the above MANCOVA model adding estimates of household income, and the 3-way interaction of Financial Motivation × Time × Income. This 3-way interaction did not significantly predict changes in liking FV [F(1, 167) = 1.76, p = .19], liking Fat [F(1, 167) = 0.23, p = .63], liking PA [F(1, 167) = 0.64, p = .43], or liking Sed [F(1, 167) = 0.98, p = .33)]. We note, however, that our measure of annual household income was negatively skewed; the modal response (28 %) reported an annual household income greater than $75,000, potentially suppressing our ability to detect Financial Motivation × Time × Income interactions.

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Acknowledgments

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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Correspondence to Arlen C. Moller.

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Moller, A.C., Buscemi, J., McFadden, H.G. et al. Financial motivation undermines potential enjoyment in an intensive diet and activity intervention. J Behav Med 37, 819–827 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-013-9542-5

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Keywords

  • Financial incentives
  • Intrinsic motivation
  • Affect
  • Undermining
  • Diet
  • Physical activity