Why the same behavior-modding techniques of FarmVille may be perfect for weight loss.

Benjamin Jackson earlier this year explored the roots of social games like FarmVille in the behaviorialism of B.F. Skinner, questioning their core ethical principles:

Many people defend FarmVille as a harmless distraction, arguing that the thousands of hours spent playing the game would still have been wasted on other activities. But there’s no question that the social game market, with its virtual currencies and unlimited stock of goods, is a huge cash cow. And it’s also clear, when you look more closely at FarmVille, that it was engineered with one goal in mind: to coerce users into tending their virtual plots of land for as long as possible. Using our natural tendency to reciprocate gratitude from our peers, we end up pestering our friends to keep returning. And cleverly-timed crop cycles force players to return to their farms at all times of day. But what about the techniques employed in other games?

But in a strange addendum, David H. Freedman, also in The Atlantic, goes long on how these once-rejected ideas of Skinner are finding new life in weight-loss programs in the Internet age:

So widely accepted is the long-term effectiveness of Skinnerian weight-loss programs that most well-regarded bariatric-surgery clinics require patients to follow such a program before surgery, in order to prove their ability to avoid regaining much or even most of the weight after—as more than one-fourth of bariatric patients eventually do, according to some studies. Even clinical programs for rapid weight loss rely on Skinner’s tenets. The 25-year-old Weight Management Program at the Miriam Hospital—one of Brown University’s teaching hospitals in Providence, Rhode Island, and the home of the National Weight-Control Registry—is a highly regarded program in which many of the patients are more than 200 pounds overweight. Typically, patients are started out on an Optifast diet, a physician-mediated program that replaces some or all meals with liquids and food bars in order to “give patients some distance from food,” as one psychologist there puts it. But the Miriam program’s goal is for its patients to gradually build healthy eating habits with ordinary food, and to add in daily walks. The program reports that about one-third of its patients keep all the weight off for two or more years. And that figure, which is some 16 times the success rate implied by the “98 percent gain it all back” statistic we keep hearing, turns out to be fairly typical of leading clinical weight-loss programs.