When confronted with making a tough decision, our befuddled brains turn us into passive decision makers. And if there happens to be a default option for us to take, we will almost always pick the default. The path of least resistance.

donor-consent Figure 1. Organ donation consent percentage shoots up when the default option is to be a donor. Source: Do Defaults Save Lives? by Eric J. Johnson and Daniel Goldstein

Do Defaults Save Lives? is an eye-opening study of the psychology of defaults by Eric Johnson and Daniel Goldstein. Figure 1 shows Denmark, Netherlands, UK and Germany being countries with very low donor consent percentage. Before you reason that people there just don’t give a damn and start booing them, consider the way their donor consent form was designed: theirs had an opt-in (check the box if you want to be a donor). Whereas countries with a startlingly high donor consent percentage used a form with an opt-out (check the box if you do not want to be a donor).

A slight change in wording that resulted in a seismic shift in a country’s choice. When individuals are faced with a difficult call, they will habitually choose the default, if a default is presented.

Savvy app developers can benefit from the user’s inclination to select the path of least resistance. If you want to persuade us to do something of your choice in the app, put your choice there by default.

preselected-option Figure 2. In-app purchase with a preselected option. Adapted from http://www.androidpolice.com

The in-app purchase screen in Figure 2 eliminates the tough decision of selecting a package to buy. Players clearly see that the Farmer’s Best Value is $40.00 and this best value is even preselected for them. Do you think the majority would select the default package? I would think so. The path of least resistance leading to higher app profits.

no-preselected Figure 3. In-app purchase without a preselected choice. Source: the-gadgeteer.com

Compare that with an in-app purchase without a default choice as shown in Figure 3. First, too many choices confuse the players. Worse, without any preselected option for the perplexed user to take, many will end up taking no action at all.

What about email opt-in, you ask. Will it work if you pre-check the opt-in box? These days, we busy folks find unsolicited emails a brutal annoyance. Our time is limited and it is no longer hard to determine if we want to receive your emails. So, sorry, the path of least resistance won’t work here.

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