The Making of Homo Honoratus: From Omission to Commission

21 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2015

See all articles by Michael Hallsworth

Michael Hallsworth

Imperial College London

John A. List

University of Chicago - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Robert Metcalfe

University of Chicago - Becker Friedman Institute for Economics

Ivo Vlaev

Imperial College London

Date Written: May 2015

Abstract

Framing remains one of the pillars of behavioral economics. While framing effects have been found to be quite important in the lab, what is less clear is how well evidence drawn from naturally-occurring settings conforms to received laboratory insights. We use debt obligation to the UK government as a case study to explore the ‘omission bias’ present in decision making with large stakes. Using a natural field experiment that generates nearly 40,000 observations, we find that repayment rates are roughly doubled when the act is reframed as one of commission rather than omission. We estimate that this reframing of the perceived nature of the action generated over $1.3 million of new yield. We find evidence that this behavior may result from a deliberate ‘omission strategy’, rather than a behavioral bias, as is often assumed in the literature. Our natural field experiment highlights that behavioral economics is much more than a series of empirical exercises to quench the intellectual curiosity of academics.

Suggested Citation

Hallsworth, Michael and List, John A. and Metcalfe, Robert and Vlaev, Ivo, The Making of Homo Honoratus: From Omission to Commission (May 2015). NBER Working Paper No. w21210, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2612745

Michael Hallsworth (Contact Author)

Imperial College London ( email )

John A. List

University of Chicago - Department of Economics ( email )

1126 East 59th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Robert Metcalfe

University of Chicago - Becker Friedman Institute for Economics ( email )

Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Ivo Vlaev

Imperial College London ( email )

South Kensington Campus
Exhibition Road
London, Greater London SW7 2AZ
United Kingdom

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