Default effect: what it is and how it affects us

Are we as in control of our decisions as we think we are? Or, on the contrary, do we take away many more opportunities than we realize by what is already given to us?

Even though we are unaware, in many cases our ability to choose is influenced by external agents of which we have no knowledge. This is what happens with the default effect. Throughout this article, we clarify what this thought dynamic is, what causes it, and how we can take advantage of it for our own benefit.

    What is the default effect?

    The default effect or “default effect” is a theory associated with consumer psychology which states that in a situation or context in which we have to make a choice, we are much more likely to end up with the one that is marked or selected by default.

    The reason is thinking about which choice to make involves an expenditure of energy that people tend to avoidIt is therefore much more likely that we will opt for that choice in which we have nothing to do. That is, in which it is already marked by default. Hence the name “by default”.

    As expected, businesses and organizations are aware of this fact, so take advantage of this thought dynamic to guide our behavior so that we get the most out of it.

    An example of this phenomenon

    A valid example would be one in which when we have registered on a website, the box “Yes, I want to receive information” is checked by default. Depending on the default effect, the most likely fact is that we subconsciously accept all of the terms and conditions shown by default. As a result, many times we find ourselves receiving advertising from a myriad of businesses that we don’t remember visiting or accepting.

    Compared to other tricks used in consumer psychology to guide our behavior, the default effect is much more imperceptible, but still it is very effective in manipulating our behavior.

    Perhaps at first glance this type of manipulation does not seem too much, because getting publicity on time is relatively uncomfortable and easy to solve. However, the people in charge of designing these questionnaires and processes have more power than we imagine because they make a number of decisions for us that we don’t even notice.

    Considering that the vast majority of consumers never change the settings with which they arrive by default in both computers and cell phones; just as we don’t stop to carefully read the conditions or the little boxes when filling out a series of forms (online and in print), we will find that someone somewhere has made these decisions for us.

      Beyond Marketing

      Another example that may have a little more impact is that in countries like Spain, Portugal or Austria, when a person registers for a driver’s license, the option of becoming a donor organs appears by default, so that if the person is not fixed and does not want to be an organ donor, he will have volunteered without realizing it. In this way, businesses, organizations and governments predetermine our decisions.

      Economist Richard Thaler and legal researcher Cass Sunstein wrote in their book on the implications of consumer psychology for human behavior that the list of areas in which we are influenced by the default effect is much broader, ranging of the subjects mentioned above in order of the elements. in a menu or the default temperature of the workstation thermostats.

      Therefore, the default effect is not only associated with consumption, but also with the intention that we are tracking certain steps in accordance with the interests of certain organizations which, all things considered, does not always have to be harmful or harmful.

      How does this influence us?

      Under the influence of the default effect there are a number of psychological procedures that make this possible. These psychological processes help us better understand how it works in our mind and why it affects us so often.

      The origins of the default effect lie in the following causes.

      1. Need to follow a recommendation

      Our mind assumes the idea that if an option is the one given by default it’s because it’s actually the best. This fact conditions our perception of what we choose.

      2. Cognitive effort

      As we saw previously, thinking about a choice means cognitive wear that people tend to save unconsciously. So, normally, we generally leave what comes pre-established as is.

      3. Change of direction

      It doesn’t carry the same moral weight as leaving the “I don’t want to be an organ donor” option to have it branded for ourselves. If the default option is the opposite, removing it will make us feel a little angst and a sense of guilt.

      4. Exchange cost

      When we reject one already marked choice in favor of another, we risk a series of changes that we are not aware of. Therefore, it is very likely that we will stay on a conservative attitude and we leave everything as is.

      5. Loss aversion

      The default option comes it tends to be the benchmark when comparing other alternatives and will always look the most attractive. So changing your mind can be seen as a loss of something good or positive.

        How is this effect applied?

        As we have seen throughout the article, there are many areas where the default effect can be exploited. however, not everyone has to be virtual or target the economic issue.

        A real and very striking example is the following. On the board of a high school in New York, they were really concerned about the low intake of healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, in the school cafeteria.

        Faced with this, they decided to change the location of the salad buffet, which was on one side against the wall, located in the center of the room; with which the students had to walk past before going to pay for food.

        Since children no longer had to expressly approach the salad bar to grab the food, and it was always in sight, the consumption of vegetables and vegetables increased to the point of tripling.

        How can we use it to our advantage?

        But not everything is foreign to the default effect. ourselves we can use it as a tactic to improve our lifestyle. If we pre-set our environment so that it is difficult for us to do the things that are harmful to our health and easy to do the things that benefit us, our behavior will eventually be conditioned by this distribution.

        For example, if we rearrange the pantry so that unhealthy foods are further out of our sight or out of our reach, it is very likely that we will consume them to a lesser extent than if it were the first thing. that we see.

        Likewise, if we put the mobile apps that distract us the most, like games or social media, in a remote location or in a separate folder, we will be much less of having to go in and waste time every time. we will take the mobile phone.

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