Emotional responses to behavioral economic incentives for health behavior change

K. van der Swaluw*, M.S. Lambooij, J.J.P. Mathijssen, H.M. Prast, M. Zeelenberg, J.J. Polder

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

180 Downloads (Pure)


Many people aim to change their lifestyle, but have trouble acting on their intentions. Behavioral economic incentives and related emotions can support commitment to personal health goals, but the related emotions remain unexplored. In a regret lottery, winners who do not attain their health goals do not get their prize but receive feedback on what their forgone earnings would have been. This counterfactual feedback should provoke anticipated regret and increase commitment to health goals. We explored which emotions were actually expected upon missing out on a prize due to unsuccessful weight loss and which incentive-characteristics influence their likelihood and intensity. Participants reported their expected emotional response after missing out on a prize in one of 12 randomly presented incentive-scenarios, which varied in incentive type, incentive size and deadline distance. Participants primarily reported feeling disappointment, followed by regret. Regret was expected most when losing a lottery prize (vs. a fixed incentive) and intensified with prize size. Multiple features of the participant and the lottery incentive increase the occurrence and intensity of regret. As such, our findings can be helpful in designing behavioral economic incentives that leverage emotions to support health behavior change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)996-1005
JournalPsychology Health & Medicine
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Incentives
  • behavioral economics
  • emotions
  • health behavior
  • weight loss


Dive into the research topics of 'Emotional responses to behavioral economic incentives for health behavior change'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this