Conquering the inner couch potato: precommitment is an effective strategy to enhance motivation for effortful actions.

Research paper by Bettina B Studer, Carolin C Koch, Stefan S Knecht, Tobias T Kalenscher

Indexed on: 09 Jul '19Published on: 11 Apr '19Published in: Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences


Letting effort-free gratification derail us from effort-requiring goals is one reason why we fail to realize health-relevant intentions like 'exercise regularly'. We tested the effectiveness of the self-control strategy precommitment in such effort-related conflicts, using a novel laboratory choice paradigm, where participants could precommit to an effort-requiring large reward by pre-eliminating an effort-free small reward from their choice set. Our participants used precommitment frequently and effectively, such that they reached effort-requiring large rewards more often. Using computational modelling and Bayesian model comparisons, we assessed whether participants employed precommitment to avoid anticipated willpower failures (i.e. as a self-regulatory measure) or to maximize their motivation to choose the effort-requiring option (i.e. as a self-motivational measure). Observed choices and precommitment decisions were consistent with the motivation maximization hypothesis, but not the willpower hypothesis. Our findings show that offering precommitment is effective in helping individuals optimize their motivation and choice behaviour and thereby achieve effort-requiring goals, and strongly encourage application of precommitment schemes in exercise and rehabilitation interventions. This article is part of the theme issue 'Risk taking and impulsive behaviour: fundamental discoveries, theoretical perspectives and clinical implications'.