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"Heads or Tails?" - A reachability bias in binary choice

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  • Maya Bar-Hillel

    ()

  • Eyal Peer
  • Alessandro Acquisti

Abstract

When asked to mentally simulate coin tosses, people generate sequences which differ systematically from those generated by fair coins. It has been rarely noted that this divergence is apparent already in the very first mental toss. Analysis of several existing data sets reveals that about 80% of respondents start their sequence with Heads. We attributed this to the linguistic convention describing coin toss outcomes as "Heads or Tails", not vice versa. However, our subsequent experiments found the "first-toss" bias reversible under minor changes in the experimental setup, such as mentioning Tails before Heads in the instructions. We offer a comprehensive account in terms of a novel response bias, which we call reachability. It is more general than the first-toss bias, and reflects the relative ease of reaching one option compared to its alternative in any binary choice context. When faced with a choice between two options (e.g., Heads and Tails, when "tossing" mental coins), whichever of the two is presented first by the choice architecture (hence, is more reachable) will be favored. This bias has far-reaching implications extending well beyond the context of randomness cognition, and in particular to binary surveys (e.g., accept vs. reject) and tests (e.g., True-False). In binary choice, there is an advantage to what presents first.

Suggested Citation

  • Maya Bar-Hillel & Eyal Peer & Alessandro Acquisti, 2014. ""Heads or Tails?" - A reachability bias in binary choice," Discussion Paper Series dp657, The Federmann Center for the Study of Rationality, the Hebrew University, Jerusalem.
  • Handle: RePEc:huj:dispap:dp657
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    File URL: http://ratio.huji.ac.il/sites/default/files/publications/dp657.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Fazio, Russell H & Powell, Martha C & Williams, Carol J, 1989. " The Role of Attitude Accessibility in the Attitude-to-Behavior Process," Journal of Consumer Research, Oxford University Press, vol. 16(3), pages 280-289, December.
    2. Paul Rozin & Sydney Scott & Megan Dingley & Joanna K. Urbanek & Hong Jiang & Mark Kaltenbach, 2011. "Nudge to nobesity I: Minor changes in accessibility decrease food intake," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 6(4), pages 323-332, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Maya Bar-Hillel, 2015. "Position Effects in Choice from Simultaneous Displays: A Conundrum Solved," Discussion Paper Series dp678, The Federmann Center for the Study of Rationality, the Hebrew University, Jerusalem.
    2. Maya Bar-Hillel, 2016. "Reply to Rodway, Schepman & Thoma (2016)," Discussion Paper Series dp699, The Federmann Center for the Study of Rationality, the Hebrew University, Jerusalem.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    acquiescence bias; order effects; randomness cognition; reachability; response bias;

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