Default effect (behavioral economics): Default options influence your decisions

When selling a product, some companies provide a default option that may include some additional paid features or smaller products. That's the default effect that is being used in behavioral economics to make people buy additional features and products that they usually might not even consider buying. It is also being used in charities and various other causes which try to influence people to make a certain decision. 

Default effect (behavioral economics)

1st study: Default effect can increase donations

The first study had over 200 participants decide how much money they will donate to a climate protection fund. Some participants were shown a default choice, others were shown an explanation about the potential influence of the default choice, and others were not shown a default choice:

  1. Participants were given 10 Euros each.
  2. They were presented with information about the climate protection fund and how much impact the donation will have (from 1 to 10 Euros).
  3. Then a choice to donate from 0 to 10 Euros was presented. For participants with the default choice condition, the default choice of 8 Euro was shown with an option to enter a different amount.
  4. Participants had to fill out a short survey.

The results of the study showed that the default effect almost doubled the donation amount (from 1.67 Euros to 3.24 Euros on average).  Surprisingly, letting participants know about the potential influence of the default effect had not significantly reduced the donations. 

2nd study: Frield study about the default effect and climate change

The second study took 2 years to complete. This time it was not a laboratory experiment, it involved people making real-life decisions. People participating at the conference were either asked to donate for the CO2 emissions that they caused by flying to Gran Canaria where the conference was located or the same amount of money was added as a default additional price. People were allowed to easily opt-out from paying the additional fee while registering for the conference. 

4 Different sums of money were requested for the CO2 emissions: 20, 40, 60, and 80 EUros. The same applied to the default options. So a person could have been either requested or marked for default payment of one of those sums of money.

The results show that the default option significantly increased the likelihood of people donating (more than 20 percent). Below you can see the distribution that shows the likelihood of people agreeing to donate to different sums of money. 

Default effect (behavioral economics)


These studies show that the default effect can have an influence on your decisions. It makes the choice easier. If you can't decide, there is less of a reason to change the default option, hence the decision-making process gets influenced.