Studying the power of megastudies by testing the idea on just one subject: How to get people to exercise more

Studying the power of megastudies by testing the idea on just one subject: How to get people to exercise more
Fig. 1: Measured versus predicted changes in weekly gym visits induced by interventions. Credit: DOI: 10.1038/s41586-021-04128-4

A large team of researchers affiliated with a host of institutions across the U.S. has tested the idea of conducting megastudies to better under social issues or problems. In their paper published in the journal Nature, the group describes conducting a megastudy to learn more about how to get people to continue working out at a gym. Heather Royer, with the University of California, Santa Barbara has published a News & Views piece in the same journal issue outlining the history of megastudies and the work done by the team on this new effort.

The idea behind a megastudy is to have multiple small groups of researchers all study the same problem at the same time, but from different angles—and then to compare their results. Doing so, some in the field suggest, helps to remove errors or biases that can creep in with single-effort studies, such as randomized control trials. To demonstrate the usefulness of megastudies, the researchers designed one and carried it out. The focus of their effort was to determine what sort of incentive might induce to keep returning to the gym. The research team was divided into subgroups, each of which chose an approach, such as sending text messages offering redeemable points or giving monetary payments.

Each of the teams set up their own mini-study in which they tested their approach with actual people who had gym memberships. Once all of the mini-studies were completed, the group met as a whole to compare notes. The researchers found that the most among those they tested was the one in which people were rewarded with very small cash rewards for attendance. Interestingly, when the researchers followed up on those same people later, they found that they had fallen back on their old habits, skipping the gym on a regular basis, or stopped going all together.

The researchers suggest that their effort did prove fruitful, however—it showed that testing ideas in multiple ways and then comparing results shed more light on a subject under study, and it also provided more alternatives for future study than single trial efforts.

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Testing social scientists with replication studies shows them capable of changing their beliefs

More information: Katherine L. Milkman et al, Megastudies improve the impact of applied behavioural science, Nature (2021). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-021-04128-4

Heather Royer, Benefits of megastudies for testing behavioural interventions, Nature (2021). DOI: 10.1038/d41586-021-03400-x

Journal information: Nature

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