In understanding how individuals make decisions, it is important to note that for most decisions, one option is to do nothing – to keep the status quo. When considering these options, people will find the default more appealing than they ought to in most situations. The essential reason for this is a core tenant of behavioral economics: loss aversion. Loss aversion is the principle that losses are more painful than gains (about twice as painful). As a result, consider, for example, considering moving to a new city. Say it cost five units of happiness in terms of friendships lost, but offered 7 units of happiness in terms of a new job. While it would be beneficial to move, most people wouldn’t, because they would weight the losses more than they should.


Students were asked to make hypothetical decisions for a fictional company inherited from a fictional uncle. They were given the choice of investing in a variety of portfolios, with differing amounts of risk. One portfolio, selected at random, was given as the default option. Regardless of the portfolio’s contents, its selection rate increased as the default.

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