If B.F Skinner’s work into operant conditioning has taught us anything, it’s that reward and punishment with behavior conditioning can be incredible motivators.
By placing a hungry rat into a box with a lever, also known as a Skinner box, the animal could be taught to exhibit a certain behavior, in this case pulling a lever, when followed with a reward. When the rat pulled the lever, initially by accident, a food pellet would immediately drop into a container next to the lever, reinforcing the behavior and encouraging the rat to produce the same action again and again.
In many ways, humans demonstrate very similar characteristics of conditioned behavior. Businesses know this, hence the popular use of systems which encourage reward, such as loyalty card schemes or benefits for referring a friend.
Numerous apps have adopted positive and negative reinforcement to help users make better lifestyle choices.
Here we will look at two apps which have employed the use of reward and punish to help users achieve their goals.
Lazy Jar is a third party Fitbit app that helps users naturally build the discipline they need to achieve their fitness goals. Through negative reinforcement, users are expected to achieve their fitness goals or face a penalty, resulting in a committed donation to charity. Users join and make a six-month activity commitment (i.e. 70,000 steps a week). Then users must choose their penalty amount — of which 80% will be donated to childhood cancer research if they don’t meet their goals.
“Research shows there is no shortage of Americans who want to lose weight or improve their fitness levels,” said Justin Anyanwu, Founder and CEO of Lazy Jar. “The issue is, most Americans have a huge obstacle in front of them in the form of lifestyle norms – so they could do with a little push”.
The idea behind Lazy Jar was to incentivize people, pushing them to make tough but rewarding lifestyle changes. Moreover, the app can also be an excellent form of support for a good cause, resulting in either better lifestyle habits or money towards charity, ultimately resulting in a positive outcome one way or another.
“We want to make fitness a lifestyle rather than a hassle by encouraging people to exercise on a daily basis”, Anyanwu added. “Lazy Jar can offer every American the chance to improve their health and reduce obesity as well as cardiovascular accidents whilst also supporting a good cause.”
SafeDrive is an app that rewards drivers for not using their phone while driving. Through the use of a complex and proprietary algorithm, users accumulate points once the smartphone of the user surpasses a speed of over six mph or 10 km/h. Based on the principles of positive reinforcement, drivers are encouraged to drive safely, resulting in points which can later be exchanged for (discounted) products and services that local companies offer through the SafeDrive Marketplace.
The app also offers additional features with the opportunity of further reward. Users are given the option to “play” which sees two users compete, based on their best trip score from the last day the app was used. The user with the highest score wins and is then entitled to a percentage of points from the opponent’s account.
Again this can be seen as an overall positive outcome, promoting better drivers while offering the opportunity of being rewarded in the process. Everybody wins.