There are a number of apps out there that are designed to help people find, keep, and cultivate their relationships. Given our expertise in relationship science, we’ve taken to reviewing these apps from time to time to determine the extent to which they reflect and/or make use of relationship science (see our previous post reviewing apps here). Our latest review is for the brand-new app called Brownie Points (also on Facebook here).
What the App Does: Brownie Points allows couple members (i.e., users) to track and assign “brownie” points to tasks that partners can later exchange for rewards. For example, suppose Kate wants William to change their new baby’s diapers. William wants to be able to sleep in on the weekends and have the occasional night out with his buddies. Together, Kate and William negotiate how many points William receives for changing diapers as well as how many points it ‘costs’ to be able to sleep in on the weekend or have a night out. Once William has enough points he can exchange them for extra sleep or an opportunity to go our drinking with his brother Harry.
Now, you may wonder why William doesn’t just change diapers because he’s a dad and he should be changing diapers without needing to be rewarded. Fair point. But one thing we like about this app (see more below) is that it is realistic about how many relationships work. The simple fact is that sometimes people need incentives to do things they don’t like or things with which they’re not particularly comfortable doing (you get a paycheck don’t you?). Shaping behavior via rewards can be a very effective strategy to promote long-term behavioral change (we tip our hats to B.F. Skinner here).
Importantly, partners discuss which tasks and rewards they want. Once they complete negotiations, they add the tasks and rewards to the app’s dashboard, which displays tasks, points, rewards, and each partner’s progress (i.e., points accrued).
What Science Says: Brownie Points is a clever way to manage some of the costs and benefits associated with (and within) relationships. This is no small feat because we know that partners have expectations for their relationships and the extent to which those expectations are met affects how satisfied people are in their relationships.1,2 The app helps clarify some of those expectations and gives partners insight into the extent to which they meet each other’s expectations. Of course, individuals could, thanks to the app, become (more) aware when their partners don’t meet their expectations. This is probably useful information as well.
Brownie Points should also help improve relationships by encouraging partners to discuss and clarify their expectations about household tasks. Such communication will help busy couples facilitate day-to-day coordination of tasks and potentially make it fun to do so. Household tasks, not surprisingly, are a common source of conflict in relationships. Interestingly, couples often cite “communication issues” as a regular source of conflict as well.3 By giving couples a ‘fresh’ way to communicate about day-to-day tasks and needs,4 Brownie Points holds potential to kill the proverbial two stones with one app (yes, we made that up).
Brownie Points can also help couples who feel their relationship is out of balance. According to equity theory, people are happiest in their relationships when what each partner puts into the relationship corresponds to what they get out of it.5 Unfortunately, as we note above, people are not always great about relaying their needs to their partners. Brownie Points could help couples identify if someone is doing too much, or not enough. Of course, there is a risk to the relationship if partners become overly focused on keeping score rather than what is best for the relationship. In a perfect relationship world, individuals should adopt a communal orientation such that they do nice things for the sake of being nice.6 But sometimes we all need reminders to put our relationships first. And as long as couples don’t take keeping score too seriously, but rather use the app as a shared new and challenging experience, their relationships will benefit – especially if some of the rewards couples work toward are fun things they do together (date night!).
We’re interested to see what couples say about how Brownie Points has improved their relationships. Give it a shot and let us (and the developer) know what you think!
Interested in learning more about relationships? Click here for other topics on Science of Relationships. Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter to get our articles delivered directly to your NewsFeed.
1Rusbult, C. E. (1980). Commitment and satisfaction in romantic associations: A test of the investment model. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 16, 172-186.
2Kelley, H. H., & Thibaut, J. W. (1978). Interpersonal relations: A theory of interdependence. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.
3Wright, B. L., & Loving, T. J. (2011). Health implications of conflict in close relationships. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 5/8, 552-562.
4Canary, D. J., & Stafford, L. (1994). Communication and relational maintenance. San Diego, CA US: Academic Press.
5Sprecher, S. (2001). Equity and social exchange in dating couples: Associations with satisfaction, commitment, and stability. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 63, 599-613
6Clark, M. S., & Mills, J. R. (2012). A theory of communal (and exchange) relationships. In P. M. Van Lange, A. W. Kruglanski, & E. Higgins (Eds.), Handbook of theories of social psychology (Vol 2) (pp. 232-250). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Ltd.