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What does science say about New Year's resolutions?

Sat Dec 31 2022

Is the new year time to make a new you? Let’s use scite to see what science says about New Year's resolutions.

We briefly delved into this question in our previous post about the holidays, and, using scite’s new “Ask a Question” feature, found some evidence that while resolutions do not seem to have any special influence when applied at the beginning of the year, having concrete goals about change can be helpful. What else does the scientific literature say?

Again, we can use the Ask a Question feature to get some background information. For example, what are the most common New Year’s resolutions? The answer appears to be those related to weight loss or physical health more broadly. In a related search, we find that gym memberships increase in January, but people usually fail to make use of them after the first month or so of the new year.

Switching over to a papers search that shows papers with at least some supporting citations, we can see that one of the most frequently cited studies on this topic Koestner et al. (2002), which examines factors that impact goal attainment. They find that when college students are specific about how they will pursue a goal and are intrinsically motivated to attain that goal, they tend to be more successful, and in one study, this finding was in the contex of New Year’s resolutions. This study also has a fair number of supporting and contrasting citations, indicating that it is a fairly active area of research (including some studies published in the past year).

Finally, a Citation Statement search points us toward a recent study on goal orientation and success of New Year’s resolutions. Specifically, people who frame their resolution as an “approach-oriented” goal (e.g., attaining a certain weight, altering eating habits) were more successful than those who frame it as an “avoidance-oriented” goal (e.g., avoiding unhealthy foods).

As we enter the new year, give a spin to find out what scientific research is saying about your resolutions.