Some colleagues of mine were quite enthusiastic about this paper from 2011 Enhanced active choice: A new method to motivate behavior change by Punam Anand Keller, Bari Harlam, George Loewenstein and Kevin G. Volpp. Press release/pop-sci write-up: The Science of Better Choices.
The introduction gives a nice summary of possibilities for structuring choices. Choice architecture was a term promoted by the seminal book Nudge (2009) by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. I highly recommend reading that book. Or -TL;DR- read Nudging: A Very Short Guide where Sunstein summarizes it in 7 pages.
Keller et al highlight the power of defaults. Opt-out gets you higher conversion or compliance than opt-in. Organ donation is a famous example; in Germany 12% is potentially an organ donor, whilst in Austria that number is 99.98%. All Austrians are donor unless they specifically state that they do not want to be an organ donor, Germany has an opt-in system: you have to actively register yourself (Do Defaults Save Lives?, Science paper by Johnson & Goldstein, 2003).
Opt-out also has limitations, and the paper lists five:
- Opt-out is “less likely to engender the kind of committed follow-up that is often useful when it comes to implementing the decision“
- “opt-out ‘choices’in many situations are less likely to reflect decision makers’ true preferences than will more active choices“
- “in some situations, passive choices are more likely to result in waste or inefficiency“
- “legally or ethically unacceptable“
- “opt-out policies can be counterproductive if those who implement them view them as a substitute for other, more substantive, interventions“
(Enhanced) Active Choice
To circumvent some drawbacks of opt-in, whilst retaining the pros, an alternative is active choice: forcing people to choose. The authors elaborate on that:
In this paper, we examine a modified approach that we call ‘Enhanced Active Choice’ that advantages the option preferred by the communicator by highlighting losses incumbent in the non-preferred alternative.
In four studies they tests these hypotheses:
In sum, our main hypotheses are (H1) that Active Choice (‘unenhanced’ or basic and ‘enhanced’) will result in more compliance than opt-in non-enrollment defaults, and (H2) that Enhanced Active Choice will result in more compliance than basic Active Choice.
In studies 1 and 2 participants (total N=55 and N=110 respectively, which translates to N≈18 and N≈27 per experimental group) were asked their intention to get a flu-shot.
In study 1, agreement for Active Choice and Enhanced Active Choice (62% and 75% agreed to get flu-shot) was significantly higher than for Opt-in (42%). Active Choice was framed as (Underlined portion was only shown in Enhanced Active Choice-condition):
“I will get a Flu Shot this Fall to reduce my risk of getting the flu and I want to save $50 or, I will not get a Flu Shot this Fall even if it means I may increase my risk of getting the flu and I don’t want to save $50.”
Similarly, in study 2, Enhanced Active Choice (93% did not choose alternative “I want to remind myself to get a flu shot”) was higher than Opt-in (45%). However, in contrast to study 1, Active Choice also resulted in lower agreement (52%).
Studies 3 (telephone, N=9,950) & 4 (website, N=11,182) looked at real medicine prescription refills and strived to enroll people in an automatic refill program. In both studies, Enhanced Active Choice resulted in significantly more enrollment than Active Choice: study 3: 32.0% vs 15.7%, and study 4: 21.9% vs 12.3%.
Some criticism on stats en framing
Oddly enough, in studies 1 & 2 the authors employ ANOVAs to compare %s, in studies 3 & 4 they (correctly I think) use χ²-tests. Perhaps because for study 1, and generously assuming group sizes of N=20, the χ²=5.07, which results in a p=0.079 with two degrees of freedom?
Furthermore, I fail to see how enhanced (i.e. “highlighting losses incumbent in the non-preferred alternative“) the following choices are:
- Study 2: “I want to remind myself to get a flu shot”
- Study 3: “press 1 if they preferred to refill their own prescription by themselves each time“
- Study 4: “I Prefer to Order my Own Refills”
For study 1, the enhancement (i.e. the detriment of the non-preferred option) is quite clear: you risk getting the flu and it would save you $50.
Enhanced Active Choice is relatively easy to implement in settings in which there are regular opportunities to interact with potential target groups. It is best implemented in conjunction with a mandatory task such as employee benefits enrollment
- I think Enhanced Active Choice is an effective way to shape choices
- I like the summary on pros and cons for different choice architecture choices
- The statistics and sample sizes of studies 1 & 2 are dodgy
- I fail to see the “enhanced” in studies 2, 3 and 4