How Defaults Affect Us

Departing from the default option causes more regret/blame if things go wrong. For example, the default after a bad loss is for a coach to make changes in personnel or strategy. Failure to do so will produce blame or regret if the team loses again. It is important to note that the change is not necessarily a good thing, just a way to avoid regret/blame.

How strong is the effect of defaults? How important are your vital organs to you? Evidence suggests that whether or not you elect to be an organ donor is largely determined by whether the default is set for you to donate or not. If the question is setup so you have to check a box to opt out of donating your organs, you are very likely to donate. If the questions is setup so you have to check a box to opt in to donate your organs, you are very likely to not donate. The decision itself is so difficult to consider that we will defer to the default option rather than go through the process of trying to figure out what we really want. This also affects us when we are deciding to sell a stock or not: it is easier to hold because it is the default – no action is necessary to hold the stock.

Again, there is not a reliable way to overcome this tendency. However, it is important to be aware of so we can make better decisions. Are you changing the lineup to avoid blame or because it is really best for the team? Are you holding the stock because you think its value will increase or because you don’t want to beat yourself up if you sell it and then it increases? We can’t predict the right answer to these questions, but we can do a better job of identifying which option is more consistent with our values and beliefs and basing our decisions on the value/belief rather than the default.


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