Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Watch out! You might be trapped.

Few days ago, I was attracted by an advertisement from 'The Economist': subscribe the magazine for 6 weeks for only £6. Before I made the payment, I noticed that in order to get this special offer, you have to accept their default option which is auto-renewing at £44 for every quarter thereafter. In other words, you will continue to pay for the magazine unless you contact them to cancel your subscription.

The Economist use Defaults as the tactic: an option that will obtain if the chooser does nothing. If renewal is automatic, many people will subscribe the magazine for a very long time, no matter they read or not. This is a powerful and influential strategy to change people’s behaviour and is widely applied by many organisations in both the private and the public sector. Johnson and Goldstein (2003) found that setting the default option increased organ donation decisions. They asked participants whether they would be organ donors on the basis of one of three questions with altering default options. In the opting-out condition, participants’ choice of being an organ donor was set by default, whereas in the opting-in condition, the default option was not to be an organ donor. Revealed donation rates of the opting-out condition were as twice high as rates of the opting-in condition.

When you make any decisions next time, be careful with the default option!


Johnson, E. J., & Goldstein, D. G. (2003). Do defaults save lives? Science, 302, 1338–1339.

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