Temptation Bundling and Commitment Devices

Temptation Bundling and Commitment Devices are rather like the carrot and the stick of personal motivation; Temptation Bundling is where you only allow yourself a particular treat when you’ve done something you don’t particularly like doing (like only watching your favourite trashy tv soap while working out at the gym). Whereas Commitment Devices are ways to punish yourself when you’ve done something you shouldn’t (my favourite example is a guy who would leave $5 in an envelope on the subway if he didn’t achieve his goal of writing five pages towards his book).

Commitment devices are a well known phenomenon in behavioral economics. According to Stephen J. Dubner and Steven Levitt they can be defined as “a means with which to lock yourself into a course of action that you might not otherwise choose but that produces a desired result”.

A common analogy for this is Odysseus’ encounter with the sirens. The sirens song was said to lure ships on to the rocks and drown sailors. Odysseus wanted to hear the song so much that he plugged his crew’s’ ears with wax and made them tie him to the mast so that he could hear their song but he could not possibly steer the ship onto the rocks.

However, most of us don’t have a crew of greek sailors to keep us on a path to our future goals so we need to employ smaller scale methods like placing your alarm clock far away from your bed so that it forces you to get up in the morning or freezing your credit card in a block of ice to avoid using it for impulse purchasing.

“Temptation Bundling” is a newer concept building on the idea that you can only do the thing you enjoy while or after you’ve done something more onerous.

Katherine Milkman, who coined the term, made a study on Temptation Bundling where three randomly selected groups of individuals were placed under the various conditions connected with the use of popular audiobooks and gym attendance

The ultimate effect was that the group that were only allowed to listen to their audiobooks at the gym attended the gym much more regularly than either the group who were given audiobooks they could listen whenever they wanted and asked to attend the gym or the group who were simply give audiobooks and no further instructions..

So, how is this useful in UX?

Commitment Devices are frequently used for casual mobile games: The game ‘Temple Run’, for example, offers a daily reward that increases as you play on consecutive days. By the time you’ve reached the fifth day you’ve reached such a high reward level that you avoid missing further days as this will mean you daily reward drops back to zero.

Temptation Bundling bundling is also used in games where users can increase the size of their rewards providing they watch an advert. (This also appears in Temple Run).

Another form of temptation bundling comes when websites offer more functionality to users who divulge more personal information.


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