Ethically Deployed Defaults

Defaults are extremely effective at influencing people’s choices. Decisions as small as the kind of milk to get in a latte and as large as whether or not to donate one’s organs can differ by 60% to 70% or more, depending on what is set as the default. This has made defaults an increasingly common form of influence—by setting an option as the default, policy makers and marketers have a simple but powerful way to sway choices. But defaults are so effective that people have raised concerns that they could be used unethically or irresponsibly. Some have suggested that informing people how defaults are intended to influence their decisions could protect people from defaults intended to benefit the default-setter at the chooser’s expense, but others have cautioned that disclosure could make well-intended defaults less effective and undermine the potential good that they could do.

New research by Mary Steffel and Elanor F. Williams in the forthcoming in the Journal of Marketing Research shows that disclosing how defaults are intended to affect behavior affects how fair and ethical people perceive them to be, but it does not change how susceptible people are to their influence. The good news is that defaults can be disclosed without reducing their benefits, but the bad news is that disclosure alone is insufficient to protect people from being unknowingly manipulated. Rather, a more active intervention is needed to enable people to resist potentially exploitative defaults.

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How Texting Can Change the Way First-Generation Students Experience College

Applying to college and figuring out financing loans is complicated, particularly for students with few resources. A new mobile campaign “Up Next” spearheaded by First Lady Michelle Obama will support support students and families and is backed by research from Ben Castleman and colleagues.

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Noise: How to Overcome the High, Hidden Cost of Inconsistent Decision Making

Humans make a lot of noise. We don’t mean loud -- we mean inconsistent decisions. Daniel Kahneman teams up with The Greatest Good’s Andrew Rosenfield, Linnea Gandhi and Tom Blaser to discuss the costly impact of “noise” in human judgement.

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The Social and Behavioral Science Team’s David Yokum is heading up a new scientific team in the DC mayor’s office. The deadline to apply is next Tuesday (September 19). More information is available on Dan Goldstein’s Decision Science News page or at

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