NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The Making of Homo Honoratus: From Omission to Commission

Michael Hallsworth, John A. List, Robert D. Metcalfe, Ivo Vlaev

NBER Working Paper No. 21210
Issued in May 2015
NBER Program(s):Public Economics

Framing remains one of the pillars of behavioral economics. While framing effects have been found to be quite important in the lab, what is less clear is how well evidence drawn from naturally-occurring settings conforms to received laboratory insights. We use debt obligation to the UK government as a case study to explore the ‘omission bias’ present in decision making with large stakes. Using a natural field experiment that generates nearly 40,000 observations, we find that repayment rates are roughly doubled when the act is reframed as one of commission rather than omission. We estimate that this reframing of the perceived nature of the action generated over $1.3 million of new yield. We find evidence that this behavior may result from a deliberate ‘omission strategy’, rather than a behavioral bias, as is often assumed in the literature. Our natural field experiment highlights that behavioral economics is much more than a series of empirical exercises to quench the intellectual curiosity of academics.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w21210

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