Variable Magnitude and Frequency Financial Reinforcement is Effective at Increasing Adults’ Free-Living Physical Activity

Vincent Berardi, Melbourne Hovell, Jane C. Hurley, Christine B. Phillips, John Bellettiere, Michael Todd, Marc A. Adams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Financial rewards can increase health behaviors, but little research has quantified the effects of different reinforcement schedules on this process. This analysis compares the average moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) associated with six distinct positive reinforcement schedules implemented within a physical activity promotion clinical trial. In this trial, participants (N = 512) wore an accelerometer for 1 year and were prescribed one of two types of MVPA goals: a static 30-min goal or an adaptive goal based on the MVPA produced over the previous 9 days. As participants met goals, they transitioned through a sequence of reinforcement stages, beginning with a continuous-fixed magnitude (CRF-FM), then CRF-variable magnitude (CRF-VM), followed by a series of variable ratio-VM (VR-VM) schedules. The average accumulation of MVPA bouts over the last 24 days of each stage was compared to each other. Average MVPA during stage transitions was also examined. The results indicated that immediate reinforcement resulted in more MVPA relative to a comparison group and that the relative effectiveness of adaptive versus static goals was dependent on the magnitude of daily MVPA goals. Schedule effects were qualitatively different for individuals who frequently met their daily goals (Large Intervention Effect subgroup) versus those who did not (Small Intervention Effect subgroup). For the Large Intervention Effect group, the CRF-VM schedule produced the most MVPA, in particular within the adaptive goal condition, with increases observed immediately upon encountering this schedule. In contrast, the CRF-FM schedule produced small amounts of MVPA. This pattern was reversed for the Small Intervention Effect subgroup, where the most MVPA was associated with the CRF-FM stage. Future interventions should focus on discriminating small versus large intervention effects as quickly as possible so that the optimal reinforcement schedule can be used.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)515-538
Number of pages24
JournalPerspectives on Behavior Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020


  • Adaptive goals accelerometer
  • Health technology
  • Physical activity promotion
  • Reinforcement schedules

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology


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