When and Why Defaults Influence Decisions: A Meta-Analysis of Default Effects

41 Pages Posted: 4 Feb 2016 Last revised: 5 Dec 2018

See all articles by Jon Jachimowicz

Jon Jachimowicz

Columbia University - Columbia Business School

Shannon Duncan

Columbia University - Columbia Business School

Elke U. Weber

Columbia Business School - Management & Psychology

Eric J. Johnson

Columbia Business School - Marketing

Date Written: December 4, 2018

Abstract

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, we conduct a literature search and meta-analyze the 58 default studies (pooled N=73,675) that fit our criteria. While our analysis reveals a considerable influence of defaults (d = .68, CI95% = [.53; .83]), we 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, we draw on existing theoretical frameworks to examine the drivers of disparity in effectiveness. Our analysis reveals two factors that partially account for the variability in defaults’ effectiveness. First, we find that defaults in consumer domains are more, and in environmental domains less effective. Second, we find that defaults are more effective when they operate through either 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). We 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.

Keywords: Defaults, Decision Making, Preferences, Choice Architecture

Suggested Citation

Jachimowicz, Jon and Duncan, Shannon and Weber, Elke U. and Johnson, Eric J., When and Why Defaults Influence Decisions: A Meta-Analysis of Default Effects (December 4, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2727301 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2727301

Jon Jachimowicz (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Columbia Business School ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

Shannon Duncan

Columbia University - Columbia Business School ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

Elke U. Weber

Columbia Business School - Management & Psychology ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

Eric J. Johnson

Columbia Business School - Marketing ( email )

New York, NY 10027
United States

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