“The Impact of a Coin Toss on Major Life Decisions and Subsequent Happiness”

I read an interesting paper recently, called “Heads or Tails: The Impact of a Coin Toss on Major Life Decisions and Subsequent Happiness”. It’s by Steven Levitt, who you may know as the “Freakonomics” guy. I’m, uh, mixed, on the Freakonomics stuff in general.

Here’s the 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.

They actually made a website where people self-selected, asked a question, got a virtual coin flip and filled out a little survey. The survey asked them how happy they were, and they got a followup survey six months later. The ones who were told by the coin flip to “change” vs “maintain status quo” (and did it) reported being happier.


(I have the original paper saved in my Pocket, but I’m not sure why. When I go to the link in a browser, it shows a paywall.)

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