Why Positive Rewards? 


Decades of behavioral science research has proven our attraction to positive rewards. Most of us can relate to this in our daily lives. We prefer to do things that feel good to us, and we put off tasks which are difficult. For example, we might put off paying the bills or doing the laundry in favor of eating a snack or watching our favorite television show. Our brains are wired to seek the positive rewards which feel good to us.

We like what feels good to us now.

We prioritize short term rewards over long term rewards or consequences. It is easier to spend money on an item we want now than to save money for later. It is more comfortable to watch television than to go for a walk. It feels better to eat a sugary snack now than to worry about weight gain or diabetes later.

From a health standpoint, this wiring of our brains puts us at risk for long term health effects and makes it very difficult for us to change the patterns of our behavior. iRewardHealth flips this wiring on its head by adding positive reward to the behaviors we usually find difficult. In effect, it makes the harder tasks (such as exercise, eating healthy, stopping smoking, etc) easier by making them feel good to us now through positive rewards. In other words, iRewardHealth pays you cash to do the harder things when it comes to health and taking care of yourself.

It is very important to note that what feels good or is rewarding to one of us might not be the same for all of us. Using the example above, some people actually really enjoy doing house cleaning and laundry, due to the feeling of accomplishment they have afterward. Similarly, some people enjoy activities such as watching television, going for a walk, talking on the phone, etc, more than others.

In designing a rewards program to incentivize healthy behavior to suit all people, we have to ask the question of which characteristics of awards are most common across everyone. The research tells us that people respond best to immediate and tangible rewards. There are two parts to this: (1) We like rewards or positive reinforcement immediately after we perform an activity and (2) the reward has to be something we actually want, i.e., something that is usable in our daily lives.

As examples of immediate reinforcement, think about activities which feel good immediately upon doing them. This is what we are most drawn toward. When we think of activities that satisfy this description we often think of substances (alcohol, drugs, etc), shopping, food, sex, and vigorous exercise, among others. Interestingly, you might notice that these are also a list of behaviors that people can get carried away with (i.e., addicted to), at least initially in part due to trying to chase that positive reward over and over again.

Beyond immediate, the rewards have to be usable to us to achieve those positive feelings. Getting points that can be redeemed months to years later or that you have to spend extra money to use is a nice perk, but it is not a feeling we are going to chase after. Being awarded money that we can go use to get whatever we want to make ourselves feel good is exactly what we want and is worth doing something difficult to achieve.

And that is what iRewardHealth lets you do. You do the difficult things in your life to be healthy, and we pay you to do them. This provides a reward for your efforts, and you can spend it on what is most important to you. From a behavioral standpoint, immediate linkage between this positive reward and the difficult behavior will help you to continue to do the difficult behavior more in the future, until it eventually becomes easy and part of a regular healthy habit. And remember, if these actions were not difficult, we would all be doing them already and there would be no obesity epidemic. But think about how exercise gets easier over time. You start to feel good about it when you notice yourself losing weight, having more energy, getting compliments from friends, etc.

All that being said, it is still worth noting that not everyone will respond to the same reward. Another critical element to an effective reward system is adaptability. Based on previous results of what was or was not reinforcing for a person, the reward system must be able to adapt to each individual's profile. How we accomplish this at iRewardHealth will be the subject of a future blog post.

Thanks for reading, and remember that with iRewardHealth, Health Pays!