New York: People who use a coin toss to decide on an important change in life are more likely to follow through with that decision, are more satisfied with that decision, and report higher overall happiness after a six-month period, a fascinating study has revealed. Society teaches us that “quitters never win and winners never quit”.
“But in reality, the data from my experiment suggests we would all be better off if we did more quitting,” said study author Steven Levitt from the University of Chicago in the US.
“A good rule of thumb in decision making is, whenever you cannot decide what you should do, choose the action that represents a change, rather than continuing the status quo,” Levitt added.
For the findings, published in the journal The Review of Economic Studies, the researchers asked people to make significant decisions, such as whether or not to move house, quitting your job or propose, and assign either an affirmative or a negative choice to heads or tails.
Levitt created a website (Freakonomics Experiments) where participants answered a series of questions. Some examples were: Should I quit my job? Should I move? Should I propose? Should I adopt? Users were also invited to create their own questions, including Should I get a tattoo? Should I try online dating? Should I rent or buy?
One choice, either the affirmative or the negative, was then assigned to heads and the other assigned to tails. Prior to the coin flip, the participants were encouraged to identify the third party to verify their outcomes.
Both the initial coin-flipper and the third parties received a follow-up survey after two-months and six-months. The two-month survey found that participants favoured the status quo, making a change less frequently than they predicted they would before the coin toss.
At the six-month survey, this bias toward the status quo was gone. Furthermore, those who were instructed by the coin toss to switch their current position were more likely to actually make the change, reported that they were substantially happier, and said that they were more likely to make the same decision if they were to choose again.
This was true for virtually every question at both the two- and six-month surveys. The researchers noted that these results are inconsistent with the conventional theory of choice. In such a theory, people who are on the margins should, on average, report equal happiness regardless of which decision they made.