Tag Archives: Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

Temptation bundling and the fresh start effect

20 Jan

I listened to a most amazing Blogginheads this morning while walking on the treadmill. Laurie Santos interviews Katherine Milkman of the Wharton School describing her research on self control.

The fresh start effect is the tendency of people to take on new self control projects, such as exercise or better diet, at meaningful calendar transitions. The most obvious example of this is the New Year’s resolution, we tend to feel that the advent of a new year marks a fresh start when we can and should resolve to change our lives for the better.

It turns out that the fresh start effect is not limited to New Years. Milkman’s work suggests that people are more likely to make changes at the beginning of a week or a month, or on their birthdays. From the abstract of a paper she co-authored:

“We propose that these landmarks demarcate the passage of time, creating many new mental accounting periods each year, which relegate past imperfections to a previous period, induce people to take a big-picture view of their lives, and thus motivate aspirational behaviors.”

This reminds me of the message in the self help classic Small Change by Susan and Larry Terkel.

Cover of "Small Change: It's the Little T...

Cover via Amazon

Temptation bundling is a technique for harnessing the power of temptation for productive ends. In this study Milkman and colleagues allowed participants to  listen to audio books of trashy novels (her description not mine) only while working out in the gym.  This had the effect of increasing gym attendance by 50%.

I am an advocate of exercising in ways that make the time more  productive. I use my daily workout on the treadmill as time to study foreign languages. The first half of the workout I listen to language tapes and review flash cards. During the second half, however, I often listen to podcasts, just like this morning.

Here is a video of Milkman explaining her work.

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