The independent news organization of Duke University

Numberless scale? Professor Dan Ariely says it can help with weight-loss

Courtesy Flickr
Courtesy Flickr

A Duke professor's numberless weight loss scale will now be available to more than 6 million people. 

Vitality, a health and life insurance company, recently announced its partnership with Shapa, a Silicon Valley firm co-founded by Dan Ariely, James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics. 

Shapa is focused on using behavioral science and artificial intelligence to fight and prevent chronic disease. This collaboration will incorporate Shapa’s health products and technology into the Vitality network, making the firm’s principal product, the Shapa scale, available to all of Vitality’s 6 million plus members.

“The reality is lots of the bad behavior is happening at home," Ariely said. "So we need something that would be in people’s homes…that will help people be better about their health choices—before they have to go to the doctor."

So what does Ariely’s Shapa firm bring to the table? The firm is using Ariely’s expertise in behavioral science and economics to create accessible technology “to empower good habits and prevent disease.” Such efforts have generated Shapa’s first product: a scale that shows no numbers. 

Why no numbers? To avoid the crippling psychology that many people fall into when trying to lose weight—Ariely calls it ‘gain aversion.’

"On the days our weight goes up, we feel terrible and on the days our weight goes down we feel a little bit happier, but it doesn’t balance out," Ariely said. "So on average, even if we don’t gain weight, the experience is negative. The key to this scale is “giving people the feedback in a way that motivates them, rather than making them unhappy.” 

The scale uses a 5-point feedback mechanism that relays information about their weight in relation to the past three weeks of data, hence ‘eliminating the noise’ and frustration of natural day-to-day weight fluctuations that may not have anything to do with what people eat and how they exercise.

“What we do is we switch it from a system that gives you accurate information to give you a system that gives you information that helps you as a user to understand the relationship between cause and effect,” Ariely said.

The Shapa product provides a holistic approach to changing bad health habits and is linked to a mobile app, encouraging its users to make specific and effective changes to their routine behaviors every morning when they step on the scale. 

Ariely has promised that more Shapa products are in the pipeline, working off of the same principles as the scale. He said he hopes the firm will expand to include medication-adherence reminders and other health-related services. 

“It's great to be able to cure people once they are unhealthy, but it's much more important to prevent bad health from the beginning,” Ariely said.


Share and discuss “Numberless scale? Professor Dan Ariely says it can help with weight-loss” on social media.