Katherine Milkman

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Katherine Milkman is an expert in improving decision-making. Her research seeks to understand why people make suboptimal choices and experience failures of self-control (e.g., why they eat unhealthy foods, fail to exercise sufficiently, and don’t save enough for retirement). She is an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School with a secondary appointment at the University’s Perelman School of Medicine, as well as an ideas42 affiliate. She received her B.S.E. summa cum laude from Princeton University and a Ph.D. from Harvard University.

 

Summaries of Recent Research Findings in Behavioral Science

Commitment Devices: Using Initiatives to Change Behavior (2014)

Context:

Bad habits can lead to poor health outcomes and drive up overall healthcare costs.

Insight:

“Commitment devices” help people not give into temptations by pre-committing themselves to healthier choices, a more costeffective alternative to incentives.

Implication:

This article offers several examples of health-related commitment devices and highlights design elements that could be engineered to motivate longer-term good habits.

 

Using implementation intentions prompts to enhance influenza vaccination rates (2011)

Context:

The flu causes more than 8,000 deaths every year in the United States despite the fact that the highly effective flu vaccine is widely available at low cost.

Insight:

Among people who received mailing reminders to get flu shots, individuals who were additionally prompted to write down the date and time they planned to get vaccinated had a 4.2 percentage point higher inoculation rate than those who only got the reminder

Implication:

Simply encouraging people to make concrete plans ahead of time at no extra cost may help them follow through on their intentions, overcoming procrastination and forgetfulness.

 

Tell us about self-control.

When we think about why people aren’t accomplishing their goals, one answer is that they don’t have the education and the skills that they need. But another answer is that they struggle with self-control. It’s hard to focus and pay attention and to put all of our effort behind our goals when there are lots of other tempting things to spend our time on. My research seeks to develop strategies for overcoming this pattern to determine how we can help people do what they should more often.

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