New US research has found that following friends’ successful methods for working out could encourage people to work out more themselves and achieve their fitness goals.
Carried out by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, the new study set out to investigate whether a “copy-paste” prompt—which is when an individual looks for and mimics a goal-achievement strategy used by someone they know—could increase the amount of time that someone spends exercising.
The researchers recruited 1,028 participants and tracked how many hours they spent exercising in the last week. They proceeded to randomly assign the participants to one of three conditions, including a copy-paste prompt condition in which they were asked to learn—either by observing or by directly asking—about an effective strategy that someone they know uses to increase their motivation to exercise. In the second group, the participants were asked to just “get ready to learn a new strategy to motivate you to exercise.” The third group, meanwhile, acted as a control group.
The findings, published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, showed that the participants in the copy-paste group spent more time exercising the following week than participants assigned to either of the other groups. The researchers explained that copy-paste prompts may be more effective than other methods for helping us to achieve our goals. The reason is that humans tend to find behaviours more appealing when they learn it from observation. And learning from someone else increases a person’s expectations of their own abilities and their likelihood of using the information they have learned.
Copy-paste prompts “are easy to implement, virtually costless and widely applicable with the potential to improve outcomes ranging from healthy eating to academic success,” add the authors. “It may be that once a consumer learns to copy-paste in one domain (e.g., exercise), she will be able to apply this technique in a way that improves many other outcomes (e.g., retirement savings).”