Researchers from Case Western University in Cleveland wanted to determine if providing gifts to new gym members would incite them to visit the gym on a regular basis. The scientists specifically chose new members, theorizing that this group’s motivation to go to the gym was high.

The intervention featured 836 individuals, separated into four groups: Members of the first (control) group received a $30 payment regardless of whether they visited the gym or not. People in the other three groups got one of three incentives if they checked into the gym at least nine times in 6 weeks: a $30 payment, a $60 payment or a gift valued at $30.

Here’s what the researchers learned:

Fourteen percent of subjects stopped going to the gym after the first week. There was a slight uptick in visits during the last week of the study, but the final results showed a very modest effect from the incentives: The reward groups logged just 0.14 more visits per week than the control group during the intervention, and there was no lasting effect after that.

Lead researcher Mariana Carrera, PhD, addressed the outcome in a Case Western press release: “Maybe the internal motivation that gets a person to start a gym membership is unrelated to what drives them to earn financial incentives. We found there was no complementarity in lumping these two motivations together.”

The study appeared in The National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper (2017; doi:10.3386/w23567).

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.

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