In order to see if financial incentive could help smokers kick the habit, scientists enrolled 2,538 participants across the United States in a study. These volunteers were then assigned to one of five groups:
- individual reward (reward based on individual performance),
- collaborative reward (reward based on group performance),
- individual deposit (requiring and upfront deposit of $150 with subsequent matching funds),
- competitive deposit (competing for other participants’ deposits and matching fund) or
- usual care (such as free smoking cessation aids).
So what did they find? Of the participants assigned to the reward-based programs, 90 percent accepted the assignment, compared to just 14 percent of those assigned to the deposit-based programs. About 16 percent assigned to reward programs remained smoke-free for six months, compared with 10 percent in the deposit programs and 6 percent in the usual care groups. Among the 14 percent of people who accepted deposits, 55 percent of them were smoke-free at six months.
“We found that the reward-based programs were more effective than deposits overall because more people accepted them in the first place,” said Scott D. Halpern, one of the researchers, in a news release. “However, among people who would have accepted any program we offered them, the deposit contracts were twice as effective as rewards, and five times more effective than free information and nicotine replacement therapy, likely because they leveraged people’s natural aversion to losing money. With such unprecedented rates of success, the trick now is to figure out how to get more people to sign up-to feel like they have skin in the game.”