Who said money isn’t the answer to all of life’s problems? Science disagrees. A new study finds that financial incentives greatly improve a smoker’s chance of leaving behind the unhealthy habit.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania surveyed more than 2.500 smokers who either worked for CVS Caremark, or were one of their family members or friends.
They split them up in two control groups. One group of 500 people was offered “unusual” care that included smoking cessation guides from the American cancer Society and referral to local anti-smoking resources. The second group (2000 people) was offered all of the same things, plus a chance of making some money by kicking the habit for half a year (six months).
The results showed that those who were promised money were much more likely to still be smoke-free six months after their quitting dates.
The study, published earlier this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, also showed that the type of incentive given to participants is highly important and can even become one of the main reasons why they fail or succeed in their task. However, the findings aren’t without a fine clause.
The type of incentive that’s more likely to motivate people to quit smoking once they’ve made the decision to quit and live healthier lives, is not necessarily that same one that motivates people to try and kick the habit in the first place.
Half the smokers in the group with financial incentives (1000 people) were given the chance to win $800 if they managed to quit for six months. 90 percent of the individuals who were offered the deal were willing to participate.
The other half were asked to put down $150 of their own money as a deposit. If they managed to quit for six months, they would get back their $150, plus a bonus of $650, making it a total of $800. Only 14 percent of the individuals who were offered the deal were willing to participate.
The smokers who put down $150 of their own money were more committed to finish the task than the ones who were simply offered a chance at making money without making a deposit. No surprise as human psychology dictates people have a natural aversion to losing money.
Half of those who contributed to the reward with $150 got through the established six month without a single cigarette, while only 17 percent of those in the reward-only group achieved their goal.
Dr. Scott Halpern, lead study author and assistant professor of medicine, epidemiology, medical ethics and health policy at the at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, concluded that reward-only programs were more effective overall as they motivated people to sign up and give the program a chance at succeeding, rather than rejecting it from the start like so many of the people who were asked to make a deposit.
It is important to note that when a person entered a cessation program willingly, their incentive was to simply get back the $150 they had deposited. However, the chances of success did grow when they were offered the $650 bonus.
He conducted the study in an attempt to find new methods of intervention that could help smokers quit. He informs that roughly 18 percent of Americans smoke regularly and that that percentage hasn’t changed in more than a decade despite all the new therapies available to people.
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