In the talk embedded below, psychologist and behavioral economist Dan Ariely asks the question: How many of our decisions are based on our own preferences and how many of them are based on how our options are constructed? His first example regards willingness to donate organs. The figure below shows that some countries in Europe are very generous with their organs and other countries not so much.
A cultural explanation, Ariely argues, doesn’t make any sense because very similar cultures are on opposite sides: consider Sweden vs. Denmark, Germany vs. Austria, and the Netherlands vs. Belgium.
What makes the difference then? It’s the wording of the question. In the generous countries the question is worded so as to require one to check the box if one does NOT want to donate:
In the less generous countries, it’s the opposite. The question is worded so as to require one to check the box if one does want to donate:
Lesson: The way the option is presented to us heavily influences the likelihood that we will or will not do something as important as donating our organs.
For more, and more great examples, watch the whole video:
Originally posted in 2010.
Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.