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Accurate and honest declarations

Published on 22 January 2020

The power of inertia

One cause of our aversion to change is that we tend to avoid doing anything that requires the effort of focussed thoughts and action (Thaler & Sunstein, 2009). One example of this is that it was common for people who purchased a mobile phone not to change the ring tone from the factory-set option.

Recognising this inertia provides the application form designer with an opportunity to select as a default the option that presents the lowest risk of the applicant making a false statement, either by fraud or in error. However, defaults can be ineffective where the applicant has strong antecedent preferences against the default option (Sunstein, 2017). These preferences can be based on their direct experience of a process, or the experience of people in their community.

Default selection is straightforward in a digital environment where a ‘less risky’ option can be auto-selected, requiring the applicant to change the selection by clicking on an alternate check-box.

In a choice scenario where there are two options, the emphasis on the default can be increased slightly by presenting only one selection box referring to the ‘opt-out’ from the default. For very high risk options the applicant can be required to phone or email the organisation to request to opt out of the default.

The initiative is with the designer to draw the decision maker away from uncertainty and towards what appears to be the ‘existing’ or ‘standard’ choice. In this context the designer of the form is a ‘choice architect’ and can ‘nudge’ people towards a desirable or safer selection without denying them the freedom to choose from all of the available options.