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Junior Mark Andrew was the biggest standout of all for Penn swimming this weekend, setting Pottruck pool records in both an individual race and a relay.

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Between classes, internships, extracurriculars, and the other rigors of college life, Penn students can be left wondering just how they can motivate themselves to stay in shape. 

In a wide-scale new experiment, Psychology professor Angela Duckworth and Wharton professor Katherine Milkman are looking for answers.

Over the course of the experiment, the researchers will record the gym attendance of participants before, during, and after they are enrolled in the project’s workout system, known as the StepUp Program

Designed by the Behavior Change for Good Initiative, an interdisciplinary team of academic experts for which professors Duckworth and Milkman act as directors, the StepUp Program features a variety of motivational tools. 

It sends out text messages, rewards, and other intervention content meant to prod people to go to the gym. Any adult member of 24-Hour Fitness, BCFG's partner for the study, may enroll in the program. 

2008 College graduate Joseph Kay received his Ph.D. last year in Psychology and currently works as a research project manager at BCFG. 

When discussing the study, he remarked on its impressive complexity and unprecedented scale. 

“We’ve got about 15,000 of the 24-Hour Fitness gym members enrolled in this now and we’re hoping for tens of thousands more, with the goal being 200,000 people,” Kay said. “So really it’s one of the largest social science experiments, we think ever, really, in terms of the number of people and in the number of treatment [methods] that we’re testing.” 

At BCFG, Kay works with College senior and Psychology-PPE double major Amanda Geiser, a former DP copy editor, and College junior and Economics major Samantha Wu-Georges.

Geiser and Wu-Georges are interning at BCFG this summer and are involved with preparing and testing the StepUp Program's intervention systems. They both expressed enthusiasm about the project and celebrated its applicability. 

“Just seeing the results could be super-helpful, just because there are so many different strategies that are included in the study,” Geiser said. “Maybe you could personally only allow yourself to watch Netflix at the gym, but also you could start going to the gym with friends, if we find that providing support is a valuable thing.” 

Wu-Georges noted that the intervention systems of the current StepUp Program were partly influenced by the results of an earlier motivational study conducted by professor Milkman at Pottruck. She said these types of motivational exercise studies are particularly pertinent to life at Penn.

“A lot of Penn students are really interested in their own health,” Wu-Georges said. “So being able to better motivate themselves and know what works is going to be really helpful to students.” 

Wu-Georges said she would even adopt some of the study’s findings and recommendations into her own life.

“It’s something I really believe in — getting yourself to do something that’s good for you and then keeping on doing it,” she said. “It is something I think literally everyone struggles with, and if we are to find out what is the most helpful incentive to get someone going to the gym, I would totally do it myself.” 

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