The Making of Homo Honoratus: From Omission to Commission
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.
We would like to thank Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the Cabinet Office, and their officials-especially Pedro Wrobel, Nick Down, David Halpern, Jackie Simms, Lesley Titley, Matt Cole, Dawn Reade, Simon Bradford, Mike Holgate, Bob Appleton, Gordon Smith, Graham Brammer, Owain Service, and Mike Drewery. We would like to thank David Novgorodsky, Wooju Lee and Joseph Seidel for their research assistance. We would also like to thank Ara Darzi. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research. The trials were funded as part of routine administration work carried out by HM Revenue and Customs. Michael Hallsworth is currently employed by the Behavioural Insights Team.