Jachimowicz, J. et al.When and why defaults influence decisions: A meta-analysis of default effects

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Jon M. Jachimowicz, Shannon Duncan, Elke U. Weber & Eric J. Johnson

Release date:
November 2019

Behavioral Public Policy, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp. 159–186

When people make decisions with a pre-selected choice option – a ‘default’ – they are more likely to select that option. Because defaults are easy to implement, they constitute one of the most widely employed tools in the choice architecture toolbox. However, to decide when defaults should be used instead of other choice architecture tools, policy-makers must know how effective defaults are and when and why their effectiveness varies. To answer these questions, the authors conduct a literature search and meta-analysis of the 58 default studies that fit the criteria. While our analysis reveals a considerable influence of defaults, they also discover substantial variation: The majority of default studies find positive effects, but several do not find a significant effect, and two even demonstrate negative effects. To explain this variability, the authors draw on existing theoretical frameworks to examine the drivers of disparity in effectiveness. The analysis reveals two factors that partially account for the variability in defaults’ effectiveness. First, the authors find that defaults in consumer domains are more effective and in environmental domains are less effective. Second, they find that defaults are more effective when they operate through endorsement (defaults that are seen as conveying what the choice architect thinks the decision-maker should do) or endowment (defaults that are seen as reflecting the status quo). The authors end with a discussion of possible directions for a future research program on defaults, including potential additional moderators, and implications for policy-makers interested in the implementation and evaluation of defaults.

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