Human technology

Reward healthy behaviors | rowan today

Human behavior is difficult to manage: why do people do what they do, even if certain habits are bad for them? And how can they change these behaviors?

Bethany Raiff, Ph.D., professor of psychology at College of Science and Mathematicshas designed incentive-based approaches, often using technology, to help people quit smoking, enter treatment for opioid use disorder, and engage in physical activity.

“We make a lot of decisions that aren’t always in our best interest,” Raiff said. “I’m trying to figure out how to shift people’s decision-making toward healthier behavior.”

bethany raiffdoctorate


Areas of expertise: Incentives, behavioral interventions, health behavior, technology

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Using video games and apps, Raiff is able to reward patients for drug abstinence, adherence to a medical diet, or participation in physical activities. For example, Raiff is developing a smartphone app that will identify the top apps used by each study participant, such as social media or games. Participants will decide which of these top apps will be blocked. Participants can only unlock the app when they submit a breath sample via their mobile phone that shows they have not smoked.

“If people are opted in and quit smoking, they should have access to all the apps they normally use,” Raiff said.

In another study, Raiff and his team developed a video game that encouraged users to abstain from smoking, again by showing that they did not smoke by submitting breath samples.

To learn how to reward those who don’t have access to smartphones or computers, Raiff works with people in treatment for opioid use. Study participants can receive financial payment on a reloadable debit card to attend treatment appointments, to adhere to medications, and to stay abstinent.

The goal is to give all patients immediate rewards for health behavior changes, as most of the positive effects do not materialize until the distant future.

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