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Behavioral scientists and researchers throughout Penn and from across the nation work on BCFG. / Photo by Scott Spitzer Photography

Penn's top behavioral scientists are getting closer to discovering how to make lasting positive change in people's lives.  

In September, the Behavior Change for Good Initiative received a $2 million donation from 1983 Wharton graduate Marc J. Leder. Executive Director Dena Gromet said the leaders of BCFG are thrilled about the donation. 

The initiative, which was started two years ago by well known professors Angela Duckworth and Katherine Milkman, aims to learn how behavioral science can teach people to be healthier, better educated, and more responsible with their finances.

Professors Angela Duckworth and Katherine Milkman are the directors of BCFG's education and health arms, respectively. / Photo by 24 Hour Fitness

The donation has already made a direct impact on BCFG. Recently, BCFG started work on a new program related to medical insurance. 

“We wouldn’t have been able to make that move forward without this generous donation,” said Milkman, who is BCFG’s director of Savings and Health. “It makes all of our work possible,” she added.

Much of the work that BCFG is doing has implications both within the lives of its study participants and within the greater scientific community.

Second-year doctorate student Joowon Klusowski, who works within the health arm of BCFG, said “the scale of the research is something that not a lot of people have attempted to do.”

One of the experiments currently run by BCFG is StepUp, a workout program that uses different incentive structures and communicates with participants via text, with the goal of increasing its gym attendance. StepUp has over 30,000 participants nationwide.

“This is, to my knowledge, in our field, the biggest field experiment ever run,” said second-year doctorate student Erika Kirgios, who has worked closely with the StepUp program.

Kyla Haimovitz, a postdoctoral researcher who works on BCFG’s education projects, emphasized the scientific significance of the initiative. By successfully operating at the scale it does, BCFG is helping to remove the cost and logistical barriers often present in real-world research projects.

“It’s important as researchers to have systems to make it easy to do these things so more people will do them, since there’s such a huge cost to it,” she said.

The donation that the program received will allow them to continue to make an impact on the scientific community, Gromet said. BCFG is currently getting ready to analyze its first wave of studies, which is being funded in part by the donation.

“It’s this iterative process," she said of the studies. "There’s a continued refinement and knowledge that’s gained from each program that you do."

This first wave of studies “will give us the first insight into with these studies, done at scale, what actually moves the needle on enduring behavior change,” Gromet said.

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