Behavior Change ’17 – Apps, Tech, and the Web

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Melissa Druskis, M.S., BCBA

Guest Author

Fitness trackers in the form of pedometers have been around since 1965, but not until the introduction of Fitbit, Pebble, Jawbone, and others around 2010, did simple pedometers combined with sleep tracking, steps climbed, and other personal metrics claim that they will motivate us to make better decisions to become healthier.  But how much does awareness of our activity shape our behavior?

21% of American adults owned a wearable device in 2014 (PWC, 2014), and the annual sales for this year are projected to be over $4 billion (Statista, 2014).  However, the gap between tracking our activity and seeing behavior change is significant.  An analysis from the Journal of American Medical Association found that company wellness programs that used wearable devices and posted a leaderboard of everyone’s statistics encouraged the highly active top performers, but discouraged the majority of other participants who needed the help the most (Patel et al., 2015).  Wearing a device that simply tracks your activity may be enough to reinforce your behavior if you’re already active, but if you’re trying to transition from a sedentary to active lifestyle, knowing how many steps you took in a day is unlikely to motivate you enough to change your behavior.

If self-monitoring is not enough to change your behavior, what is?  There are actually websites and products dedicated to holding you accountable for your behavior, whether it is for increased health and fitness, or to stop smoking.  These companies use reinforcement, punishment, or a combination of both, to make sure you stick to your goal and make progress.

Reinforcing Programs

Finding something that is reinforcing to the individual is one of the most common ways to increase a desired behavior.  While we won’t all have behavior that is reinforced by the same things, the companies below offer a variety of reinforcement methods to make it worth it to run that extra mile on the treadmill.

Lifetick is a website that lets you track any area of your life and makes sure you are choosing goals that are S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time Specific).  They allow you to share your goals with others who can work on the goal with you or cheer you on as you make progress.  If your behavior is reinforced by social praise and interaction, then this app might be perfect for you.

Habitica is an app to help you build good habits by treating your life like a game.  By completing and logging tasks or accomplishments from your real life, you earn gold, achievements, and other game related items like pets and mounts.  There is a punishment aspect to this where you lose life points if you’re not meeting your goals, but it only pertains to the game.

Punishing Programs

We don’t take punishment lightly when it comes to our clients, but as an adult, you can choose whether you want to include punishment to help you achieve your goals.  Punishment will be effective at decreasing your bad behaviors, but who wants to punish themselves?  Don’t worry, you don’t need to whip yourself Da Vinci Code style, this is 2017 and there is technology that will make punishing your behavior easy and painless (well, it probably won’t be painless).

If losing weight and getting healthy is your only goal, Pact combines reinforcement and punishment in a Robin Hood-like arrangement by taking money from members who don’t meet their goal and giving it to the people who do.  They use GPS, photos, and other services to make sure you aren’t cheating, and you can earn up to $5 per week for meeting your goals, or lose $5 to $50 if you don’t meet your goals.

Pavlok is a wearable tracker that gives you a 50 to 450 volt “zap” when it detects you engaging in your bad habit by movement tracking or by self-report.  Testimonials on their website say it has helped people stop biting their nails, quit smoking, get off sugar, and wake up on time.  They also allow you to set it to vibrate or beep instead of shock you, or if your behavior is particularly resistant to change, receive multiple shocks instead of just one.

Stickk is a website that allows you to set up a commitment contract for any goal, have a referee to monitor and confirm your progress, and set up monetary stakes, which is an optional feature but states that people are 3x more successful when they are financially invested.  The fun part is that you can choose what happens to the money you lose for failing.  It can go to a friend or someone you hate, a charity, or an anti-charity.  Anti-charities are dependent on your values and include organizations that are pro-life vs. pro-choice, or those that don’t believe in climate change vs. environmental groups.

If self-awareness isn’t enough motivation for you, then check out one of these websites to add a consequence to your choices.

How have you used technology to change your behavior?  Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!

References:

Global wearable technology market 2012-2018 | Statistic. (2014, January). Retrieved January 15, 2017, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/302482/wearable-device-market-value/

Patel MS, Asch DA, Volpp KG. Wearable Devices as Facilitators, Not Drivers, of Health Behavior Change. JAMA. 2015;313(5):459-460. http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2089651

The Wearable Future. Pricewaterhouse Coopers. Retrieved January 14, 2017, from http://www.pwc.com/us/en/technology/publications/wearable-technology.html
 
Melissa Druskis, M.S., BCBA has worked with children with autism for over 7 years as a speech language pathologist assistant and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). She is the founder of www.abcbehaviortx.com, a website to disseminate the science of ABA and provide training and materials to ABA practitioners. She earned her Master’s degree from the University of Texas at Dallas in Applied Cognition and Neuroscience, with a specialization in Cognition and Human-Computer Interaction, and completed the BCBA Certification program at Florida Institute of Technology. You can contact her through her website at www.abcbehaviortx.com or by email at abcbehaviortx@gmail.com.

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