Recent literature in economics has highlighted that competition and symbolic awards can provide non-monetary incentives. In this paper, we report on a step contest that we carried out at a large Swedish workplace in order to test whether competition for symbolic awards can be used to promote physical exercise. Each individual was equipped with a pedometer and registered the number of steps daily during a four week period. Participants competed both in teams and individually and the winning team and individual received symbolic prizes. To evaluate the effect of the competition, we randomized teams into a control group and two treatment groups. We found that the step contest significantly increased both the fraction of subjects that completed the step contest and the number of steps. The number of steps was about 1,000 steps higher in the main treatment group than in the control group (an increase by about 10 percent). This is a conservative estimate as the dropouts on average walked fewer steps than individuals completing the study. In an additional treatment, we also included a daily step goal in the contest. The step goal had no additional significant effect on the number of steps, which may be due to the relatively low step goal used (7,000 steps per day).
©2011 Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, Berlin/Boston