Current Projects

Here is what I have in the pipeline…

“Goal setting for a healthier self: evidence from a weight loss challenge” [slides]

Self-set goals can be a powerful motivational force when used as an instrument of self-regulation. A wide range of studies indeed shows that higher goals typically lead to higher performance (Locke and Latham 1990). Yet, overly ambitious goals may become demotivating once they appear out of reach. If this second effect dominates, then information interventions designed to help individuals set more realistic goals could improve performance. I test this hypothesis in the context of weight loss goals set by participants in a yearly weight loss challenge. Participants were randomly assigned either to a control condition with no information, or to a treatment condition with information about the average goal and success rate of past participants. Participants in the information condition set significantly lower weight loss goals; furthermore, controlling for the goal level, they were significantly more likely to achieve their target, more likely to lose weight and less likely to regain. These findings suggest that information interventions that nudge individuals into setting more realistic goals for themselves could improve health outcomes.

“Evaluating a peer mentor mobile app for smoking cessation”, with Justin White (UCSF), Lee Westmaas (American Cancer Society) and Lorien Abroms (George Washington University)

Scaling up interventions for smoking cessation could prevent millions of deaths from lung cancer worldwide. Existing approaches have proven difficult to offer at a population level. The increasing use of smartphone technology presents an exceptional chance to expand access to low-cost smoking cessation services. In this study, we propose to build a smartphone app for smoking cessation. Two features will distinguish the app from existing products: 1) peer mentoring and 2) a game-based design to motivate both app users and peer mentors. We will use the app as a platform for a randomized controlled trial to test the effectiveness of peer mentoring for smoking cessation in a game-based environment. While peer mentoring is a common approach to health behavior change, it has rarely been used to maximum effect by smoking cessation programs. This study aims to provide among the most rigorous evidence to date on the potential of peer mentoring. In addition, game-based interventions using principles of behavioral economics have recently shown promise motivating smoking cessation, but have not been incorporated in most cessation programs.