Article | Health Psychology | September 2013

Converging to the Lowest Common Denominator in Physical Health

by Leslie John and Michael I. Norton

Abstract

Objective: This research examines how access to information on peer health behaviors affects one's own health behavior. Methods: We report the results of a randomized field experiment in a large corporation in which we introduced walkstations (treadmills attached to desks that enable employees to walk while working), provided employees with feedback on their own and their co-workers' usage, and assessed usage over six months. We report how we determined our sample size, as well as all data exclusions, manipulations, and measures in the study. Results: Walkstation usage declined most when participants were given information on co-workers' usage levels, due to a tendency to converge to the lowest common denominator—their least-active co-workers. Conclusion: This research demonstrates the impact of the lowest common denominator in physical activity: people's activity levels tend to converge to the lowest-performing members of their groups. This research adds to our understanding of the factors that determine when the behavior of others impacts our own behavior for the better—and the worse.

Keywords: Information; Behavior; Decision Choices and Conditions; Health; Health Industry;

Citation:

John, Leslie, and Michael I. Norton. "Converging to the Lowest Common Denominator in Physical Health." Special Issue on Health Psychology Meets Behavioral Economics. Health Psychology 32, no. 9 (September 2013): 1023–1028.