Commitment lotteries promote physical activity among overweight adults - A cluster randomized trial

Koen Van Der Swaluw, Mattijs S. Lambooij, Jolanda J.P. Mathijssen, Maarten Schipper, Marcel Zeelenberg, Stef Berkhout, Johan J. Polder, Henriëtte M. Prast

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: The World Health Organization has identified physical inactivity as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality. People often intend to engage in physical activity on a regular basis, but have trouble doing so. To realize their health goals, people can voluntarily accept deadlines with consequences that restrict undesired future behaviors (i.e., commitment devices). Purpose: We examined if lottery-based deadlines that leverage regret aversion would help overweight individuals in attaining their goal of attending their gym twice per week. At each deadline a lottery winner was drawn from all participants. The winners were only eligible for their prize if they attained their gym-attendance goals. Importantly, nonattending lottery winners were informed about their forgone prize. The promise of this counterfactual feedback was designed to evoke anticipated regret and emphasize the deadlines. Methods: Six corporate gyms with a total of 163 overweight participants were randomized to one of three arms. We compared (i) weekly short-term lotteries for 13 weeks; (ii) the same short-term lotteries in combination with an additional long-term lottery after 26 weeks; and (iii) a control arm without lotteries. Results: After 13 weeks, participants in the lottery arms attained their attendance goals more often than participants in the control arm. After 26 weeks, we observe a decline in goal attainment in the short-term lottery arm and the highest goal attainment in the long-term lottery arm. Conclusions: With novel applications, the current research adds to a growing body of research that demonstrates the effectiveness of commitment devices in closing the gap between health goals and behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)342-351
Number of pages10
JournalAnnals of Behavioral Medicine
Issue number4
Early online date25 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2018


Acknowledgements This research is funded as a part of the Strategic Program of the Dutch Institute for Public Health and the Environment. We thank High Five and the Dutch State Lottery for their comprehensive cooperation.

FundersFunder number
Dutch Institute for Public Health and the Environment


    • Behavior change
    • Behavioral economics
    • Commitment devices
    • Deadlines
    • Health promotion
    • Physical activity


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