User Error

Behavior researchers have suspected for some time that rather than telling someone trying to lose weight to “get off the couch and start exercising,” individually tailored messages are more effective. For example: “Right after ‘American Idol’ and before you put the kids to bed, do three reps of 5-pound curls. And then eat a banana instead of the leftover cheesecake on the second shelf of the Sub Zero.”

A new systematic review (http://tinyurl.com/hx6o3) confirms that people who filled out a form documenting different aspects of their lifestyle and then received a tailored message did better with diet and exercise than those who received a generic message.

The funny thing is that these “personalized education” messages were generated by a computer.

Given the way most visits to the doctor go these days, it might be not only be a more useful message, but a warmer one, too. Nevertheless, the difficulty with changing behavior lies not always in the message or the means of delivery but with the user of the information.

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