Two Essays Analyzing the Behavioral Economics Underlying Health Decisions: Delay Discounting and Crowding Out Effect

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Virginia Tech

This thesis is composed of two essays that study behavioral economics to motivate health-promoting behaviors. The first paper, "Does Nutrition Education Reduce Delay Discounting?," studies delay discounting, or delayed gratification, which is an important research topic because it plays a role in producing numerous health outcomes, such as obesity. It is important to understand how the delay discounting process relates to unhealthy diets. People who discount the value of future outcomes prefer immediate rewards (e.g., enjoyment/taste) even though a larger reward from delaying exists (e.g., good health status). In this paper, we aim to provide evidence over whether nutrition education reduces delay discounting. Our analysis, therefore, provides guidance for designing more effective interventions to help increase overall health. The second paper, "Are We Reaching Those Most In Need?: Motivation Profiles and Willingness-to-Participate," explores the potentially negative psychological spillover effects (i.e., "crowding out" effects), which can complicate incentives' effectiveness because it can make targeted behavior (i.e., the aim to improve one's health) less desirable. To understand this "crowding out" effect, our paper examines how different types of motivations (i.e., intrinsic and extrinsic motivations) influence people's willingness-to-participate in a weight control program with and without incentives. This analysis provides further guidance for designing more effective interventions by considering different recruitment strategies to target different individuals, which can minimize the negative spillover of incentives.

Delay discounting, Time inconsistent preference, Money domain, Food domain, Health behavior, Nutrition education, Incentives, Motivation, Crowding out effect, Intrinsic motivation, Extrinsic motivation, Behavioral Economics