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Heads or Tails: The Impact of a Coin Toss on Major Life Decisions and Subsequent Happiness

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  • Steven D. Levitt

Abstract

Little is known about whether people make good choices when facing important decisions. This paper reports on a large-scale randomized field experiment in which research subjects having difficulty making a decision flipped a coin to help determine their choice. For important decisions (e.g. quitting a job or ending a relationship), those who make a change (regardless of the outcome of the coin toss) report being substantially happier two months and six months later. This correlation, however, need not reflect a causal impact. To assess causality, I use the outcome of a coin toss. Individuals who are told by the coin toss to make a change are much more likely to make a change and are happier six months later than those who were told by the coin to maintain the status quo. The results of this paper suggest that people may be excessively cautious when facing life-changing choices.

Suggested Citation

  • Steven D. Levitt, 2016. "Heads or Tails: The Impact of a Coin Toss on Major Life Decisions and Subsequent Happiness," NBER Working Papers 22487, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:22487
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Uri Gneezy & Alex Imas & John List, 2015. "Estimating Individual Ambiguity Aversion: A Simple Approach," Artefactual Field Experiments 00588, The Field Experiments Website.
    2. S. Dellavigna., 2011. "Psychology and Economics: Evidence from the Field," VOPROSY ECONOMIKI, N.P. Redaktsiya zhurnala "Voprosy Economiki", vol. 5.
    3. John A. List, 2002. "Preference Reversals of a Different Kind: The "More Is Less" Phenomenon," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(5), pages 1636-1643, December.
    4. Uri Gneezy & John A List, 2006. "Putting Behavioral Economics to Work: Testing for Gift Exchange in Labor Markets Using Field Experiments," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 74(5), pages 1365-1384, September.
    5. repec:feb:artefa:0087 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Ananish Chaudhuri, 2011. "Sustaining cooperation in laboratory public goods experiments: a selective survey of the literature," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 14(1), pages 47-83, March.
    7. Daniel Kahneman & Alan B. Krueger, 2006. "Developments in the Measurement of Subjective Well-Being," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 20(1), pages 3-24, Winter.
    8. Pedersen, Peder J. & Schmidt, Torben Dall, 2014. "Life Events and Subjective Well-being: The Case of Having Children," IZA Discussion Papers 8207, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    9. Dolan, Paul & Peasgood, Tessa & White, Mathew, 2008. "Do we really know what makes us happy A review of the economic literature on the factors associated with subjective well-being," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 94-122, February.
    10. Levitt, Steven D. & List, John A., 2009. "Field experiments in economics: The past, the present, and the future," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 53(1), pages 1-18, January.
    11. Sendhil Mullainathan & Marianne Bertrand, 2001. "Do People Mean What They Say? Implications for Subjective Survey Data," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(2), pages 67-72, May.
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    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Heads or Tails: The Impact of a Coin Toss on Major Life Decisions and Subsequent Happiness
      by maximorossi in NEP-LTV blog on 2016-09-06 01:23:46

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    Cited by:

    1. Victor Haghani & Richard Dewey, 2017. "Rational Decision-Making Under Uncertainty: Observed Betting Patterns on a Biased Coin," Papers 1701.01427, arXiv.org.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D12 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Empirical Analysis
    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty

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