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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00206

Some Middle School Students Want Behavior Commitment Devices (But Take-up Does Not Affect Their Behavior)

 Carly D. Robinson1*,  Gonzalo Pons2, Angela L. Duckworth3 and  Todd Rogers4
  • 1Graduate School of Education, Harvard University, United States
  • 2Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago, United States
  • 3Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, United States
  • 4John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, United States

Commitment devices impose costs on one’s future self for failing to follow through on one’s intentions, offer no additional benefit to one’s future self for following through on the intention, and people voluntarily enroll in them. Enrollment in commitment devices reflects self-awareness that one may lack sufficient self-control to fulfill one’s intentions. There is little experimental research on whether school-age children possess the self-awareness necessary to enroll in a commitment device, despite evidence that children and young adolescents have many positive intentions that they fail to live up to, such as demonstrating improved school conduct or eating healthier. We report the first field experiment examining the demand for, and impact of, commitment devices among middle school students. We offered students a commitment device that imposed future costs for failing to improve in-school conduct. When presented with the opportunity to actively opt-in (default not enrolled), over one-third of students elected to enroll. When presented with the opportunity to actively opt-out (default enrolled), more than half elected to remain enrolled, showing that changing default options can increase commitment device enrollment. Despite demand for the self-control strategy, taking-up the commitment device did not affect student behavior. These findings have implications for youth-based behavioral interventions broadly, as well as those focused on eating behaviors.

Keywords: behavioral interventions, Youth, Self-Control, Commitment device, Education intervention, eating behavior

Received: 12 Sep 2017; Accepted: 07 Feb 2018.

Edited by:

Benjamin Missbach, Ludwig Boltzmann Gesellschaft (LBG), Austria

Reviewed by:

Siegfried Dewitte, KU Leuven, Belgium
Janet Schwartz, Tulane University, United States  

Copyright: © 2018 Robinson, Pons, Duckworth and Rogers. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Ms. Carly D. Robinson, Harvard University, Graduate School of Education, 13 Appian Way, Cambridge, 01238, MA, United States,