In the world of business research, many scholars are increasingly hinging their hypotheses on sociological and psychological experiments, seeking a true handle on what motivates executives, employees, consumers, and policymakers. While the goal is generally to help businesses run more effectively, the research often leads to findings that are useful to our everyday lives, too. For instance, the following experimental studies imply several simple weight-loss tips.
TIP #1 Put your money where your mouth is. Leslie John, now an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, led an experiment at Carnegie Mellon in which subjects essentially went double-or-nothing on a diet bet. A group of obese hospital patients agreed to a deposit contract, banking a small amount of their own money into a pot each day during a 32-week weight-loss trial. The research team agreed to match the deposits dollar-for-dollar; the patients were allowed to deposit up to $3 per day.
If participants reached their weight loss goal by the end of the trial, they got to keep the money, thus doubling their deposits. But if they failed to reach the goal, they lost all the cash. Meanwhile, a control group of participants entered a weight loss program with no financial incentives.
The researchers found that the financial incentive group lost significantly more weight in 32 weeks than did the control group. (Unfortunately, much of the weight came back after the eight-month trial was over.)
For a detailed account of the experiment, read Financial Incentives for Extended Weight Loss: A Randomized, Controlled Trial, published in the June 2011 edition of Journal of General Internal Medicine.
TIP #2 Fill your backpack with rocks. A research team from Harvard and the University of Central Florida tested the theory that the physical feeling of weight is associated with the emotional feeling of guilt.
The researchers asked 67 college undergraduates to complete a series of tasks that involved recalling past guilt-inducing behavior, confronting an opportunity to cheat, and choosing whether to eat a piece of chocolate or an organic fruit strip. The catch: half the students went through the experimental session wearing 15-pound backpacks, while the other half wore 5-pound backpacks.
The results showed that participants wearing a heavy backpack indeed experienced higher levels of guilt than the light backpack wearers. More importantly, the backpacks affected behavior. Those wearing a heavy backpack were more likely to choose healthy snacks over potentially guilt-inducing fattening ones.
For a detailed account of the experiment, see The Burden of Guilt: Heavy Backpacks, Light Snacks, and Enhanced Morality by Harvard Business School Associate Professor Francesca Gino, Maryam Kouchaki (Harvards Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics), and Ata Jami (the University of Central Florida). The article will be published in an upcoming issue of Journal of Experimental Psychology.
TIP #3 Adopt the body language of a CEO for a minute or two. Harvard Business School Associate Professor Amy Cuddy joined researchers from Columbia University to test how body language affects body chemistry. Specifically, they wanted to suss out the beneficial effects of so-called power poses adopting various stances that make people look confident even if theyre not feeling confident.
Writer Julia Hanna described the experiment in an HBS Working Knowledge article:
Cuddy and coauthors Dana R. Carney and Andy J. Yap of Columbia University detail the results of an experiment in which forty-two male and female participants were randomly assigned to a high- or low-power pose group. No one was told what the study was about; instead, each participant believed it was related to the placement of ECG electrodes above and below his or her heart.
Subjects in the high-power group were manipulated into two expansive poses for one minute each: first, the classic feet on desk, hands behind head; then, standing and leaning on ones hands over a desk. Those in the low-power group were posed for the time period in two restrictive poses: sitting in a chair with arms held close and hands folded, and standing with arms and legs crossed tightly. Saliva samples taken before and after the posing measured testosterone and cortisol levels.
Medical studies suggest that a high level of cortisol, known as the stress hormone, leads to an excess of abdominal fat so lowering cortisol levels is a good thing. Sure enough, Cuddy and her team found that high-power poses increased testosterone levels by about 19 percent and decreased cortisol levels by some 25 percent, for both men and women. (Low-power poses, on the other hand, decreased testosterone and increased cortisol levels.)
- ^ Financial Incentives for Extended Weight Loss: A Randomized, Controlled Trial (www.hbs.edu)
- ^ The Burden of Guilt: Heavy Backpacks, Light Snacks, and Enhanced Morality (www.hbs.edu)
- ^ HBS Working Knowledge article (hbswk.hbs.edu)
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