Comparing the effectiveness of individualistic, altruistic, and competitive incentives in motivating completion of mental exercises

J Health Econ. 2015 Dec;44:286-99. doi: 10.1016/j.jhealeco.2015.09.007. Epub 2015 Oct 9.


This study examines the impact of individually oriented, purely altruistic, and a hybrid of competitive and cooperative monetary reward incentives on older adults' completion of cognitive exercises and cognitive function. We find that all three incentive structures approximately double the number of exercises completed during the six-week active experimental period relative to a no incentive control condition. However, the altruistic and cooperative/competitive incentives led to different patterns of participation, with significantly higher inter-partner correlations in utilization of the software, as well as greater persistence once incentives were removed. Provision of all incentives significantly improved performance on the incentivized exercises. However, results of an independent cognitive testing battery suggest no generalizable gains in cognitive function resulted from the training.

Keywords: Behavioral economics; Cognitive exercises; Health behaviors; Incentives; Social incentives.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Altruism
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / economics
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / prevention & control*
  • Competitive Behavior
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Economics, Behavioral*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Processes*
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation*
  • Pennsylvania
  • Problem Solving
  • Social Environment
  • United States