IP network leader Angela Duckworth and her colleague Katy Milkman recently sat down with HCEO to discuss their work on creating enduring behavior change. Both researchers had long been interested in questions of individual decision-making and factors that influence achievement. So in 2017 they launched the Behavior Change for Good Initiative, which brings together a diverse team of academics and practitioners in order to find insight into promoting permanent behavioral changes.

"The idea is that in two ways behavior change can be something that we want to be for good," Duckworth says. "One way is that we want it to be permanent, we want people to do things like go to the gym or study if you’re a student, or save a little money every week for retirement. We want these things to actually endure as opposed to being things that you do for awhile and then you stop doing. And then the other reason that we like to call it Behavior Change For Good is that it is for good. It’s for your own good. We want people to act in their own best interest. And it’s for everyone else’s good - very often these behaviors have positive effects on other people." 

The initiative is the largest known interdisciplinary effort to address the problem of enduring behavior change, and intends to focus on three main areas: health, education, and personal savings. Currently, the team is running a study on health, working in partnership with 24-Hour Fitness to track exercise habits and encourage steady gym attendance.

"We are running, to our knowledge, the largest random assignment study ever done on gym attendance," Milkman says. She notes that the project will have about 200,000 participants and 57 different treatment arms. "All with the goal of figuring out what kind of interventions can we build that will create enduring behavior change. In this case, we’re looking for enduring exercise habits," she says.

Duckworth stresses the importance of bringing together a team with a variety of expertise. "I think the future of behavioral science is bright and I think the future is interdisciplinary," she says. "The idea is that people have a tradition that has certain advantages, but also there are blind spots for every tradition. We’re hoping, by creating an interdisciplinary team, we’ll make progress at a rate that is faster than what would have been possible alone."

Angela Duckworth is the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also the founder and CEO of the Character Lab, a nonprofit whose mission is to advance the science and practice of character development. Katherine Milkman is the Evan C. Thompson Endowed Term Chair for Excellence in Teaching and a tenured associate professor at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She holds a secondary appointment at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine.