Graeme Newell

Omission Bias

When bad things happen, society tends to penalize action and give us a free pass for inaction. It’s not okay to steal, but it’s okay to do nothing when we have an opportunity to stop a theft.

Organ donation rates have skyrocketed in states that have mandated presumed consent or “opt-out” policies. No one is forced to donate, but actively opting out causes a lot of people to feel as if they are actively harming a person, and this makes them less likely to say no to organ donation.

Doing nothing feels better because it gives us the opportunity to delay or even avoid negative consequences. Why do something painful now when you can put it off until tomorrow? You might even get lucky and never have a negative consequence.

How can you avoid omission bias? Make opting in the default choice, then give yourself an option for opting out. For example, if you want to exercise four times a week, set aside time to exercise every day. Then, if you choose to exercise less, you can cancel a workout.