Have a look at the chart above. Why do you think that the countries on the right have much higher organ donation sign-up rates than the countries on the left?

Many of these countries are culturally similar (Sweden/Denmark or Germany/Austria).  So why are Swedes and Austrians so much more willing to donate their organs?

Organ donation is an opt-in choice in Denmark, the Netherlands, the UK, and Germany. It’s an opt-out choice in the other countries, meaning every citizen is opted into the program automatically.  It’s still their choice and they can decide either way, but they need to exert added effort to withdraw (even if the “effort” is just checking a box).  

This is a classic illustration of the power of the Path of Least Resistance. Theoretically, deciding whether to be an organ donor is not a trivial choice… and yet it’s so powerfully influenced by which option is set up to be easiest.

The UK government has used behavioral science findings on complexity to get people to pay their taxes and fines on time. They simplified the design of their form, adding a clear call to action and a prominent “pay now” stamp.  This improved design is estimated to result in an additional $10 million in fines being paid by their due date, with over 60,000 late fees avoided (5).

Like the UK government, the US government is also starting to use behavioral findings to improve outcomes for its citizens. So far, it has started to apply the research on power of defaults to increase double-sided printing with the goal of saving paper.  In an initial experiment at the USDA’s Economic Research Service, employees were asked to change the default setting of their printers to double-sided instead of single-sided. This prompt increased the likelihood of double-sided printing by almost 6% (6).

Irrationally yours

(5) The Behavioral Insights Team.  Update Report 2013-2015.

(6) Social and Behavioral Sciences Team, Executive Office of the President National Science and Technology Council.   2015 Annual Report.