Default Neglect in Attempts at Social Influence

Default Neglect in Attempts at Social Influence

By
Julian J. Zlatev, David P. Daniels, Hajin Kim, Margaret Ann Neale
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. December
2017, Vol. 114, Issue 52, Pages 13643-13648

Current theories suggest that people understand how to exploit common biases to influence others. However, these predictions have received little empirical attention. We consider a widely studied bias with special policy relevance: the default effect, which is the tendency to choose whichever option is the status quo. We asked participants (including managers, law/business/medical students, and US adults) to nudge others toward selecting a target option by choosing whether to present that target option as the default. In contrast to theoretical predictions, we find that people often fail to understand and/or use defaults to influence others, i.e., they show “default neglect.” First, in one-shot default-setting games, we find that only 50.8% of participants set the target option as the default across 11 samples (n = 2,844), consistent with people not systematically using defaults at all. Second, when participants have multiple opportunities for experience and feedback, they still do not systematically use defaults. Third, we investigate beliefs related to the default effect. People seem to anticipate some mechanisms that drive default effects, yet most people do not believe in the default effect on average, even in cases where they do use defaults. We discuss implications of default neglect for decision making, social influence, and evidence-based policy.