Have you ever wondered how to incentivize your family or a friend to change his/her own behaviour? Rewarding him/her directly with an individual prize is always a good incentive? For instance, will your child exercise more because you give him an “individual” prize or it could be probably more productive to give a prize to his/her best friends instead?

This second type of incentive, the “social rewards”, is based on the idea that your offspring’s close network will positively influence your child towards the desired behaviour due to “peer pressure”, while at the same time, the whole social network will perform better due to social influence.

This kind of alternative incentives is the focus of the recently published article in Nature Human Behaviour (Proestakis et al. 2018) coordinated by our colleague Antonios Proestakis, working on Behavioral Insights at the EU Policy Lab.

According to this study, network interventions can help to achieve behavioural change by inducing peer-pressure in the network (family, social network, etc.).

In a seven-week school-based field experiment using preadolescents’ physical activity as a proxy for estimating behavioural change, the authors tested the hypotheses that social incentives (“my” behaviour affects “your” rewards) are more effective than individual ones (“my” behaviour affects “my” own rewards) and that boys’ and girls’ distinct networks are susceptible to different social incentives.

Social rewards indeed found to be more productive, with females being more receptive to the direct reciprocity scheme (“my” behaviour affect “your” rewards and “your” behaviour affects “my” rewards) and males to team rewards (our behaviour contributes to a shared reward).

The authors argue that differences in the sex-specific sub-networks can explain these findings and they conclude that network interventions adapted to the network-specific characteristics may constitute a powerful tool for behavioural change.