Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Make That Change

Steven Leavitt (of Freakonomics) reports on an interesting experiment:
Little is known about whether people make good choices when facing important decisions. This paper reports on a large-scale randomized field experiment in which research subjects having difficulty making a decision flipped a coin to help determine their choice. For important decisions (e.g. quitting a job or ending a relationship), those who make a change (regardless of the outcome of the coin toss) report being substantially happier two months and six months later. This correlation, however, need not reflect a causal impact. To assess causality, I use the outcome of a coin toss. Individuals who are told by the coin toss to make a change are much more likely to make a change and are happier six months later than those who were told by the coin to maintain the status quo. The results of this paper suggest that people may be excessively cautious when facing life-changing choices.
This suggests that "status quo bias," that is, preferring the devil you know to the one you don't, is a real thing and keeps many people from making changes that would benefit them.

Also interesting is that 23,000 people made the digital coin toss on Leavitt's web site, and that more than 13,000 responded to follow-up surveys about how their choices worked out.

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