The limits of defaults: The influence of decision time on default effects

Benjamin X. White, Duo Jiang, Dolores Albarracín

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The stability of default effects to contextual features is critical to their use in policy. In this paper, decision time was investigated as a contextual factor that may pose limits on the efficacy of defaults. Consistent with the hypothesis that time constraints may increase reliance on contextual cues, four experiments, including a preregistered one of a nationally representative sample, and a meta-analysis that included four additional pilot experiments, indicated that short decision times increased the advantage of action defaults (i.e., the default option automatically endorsed the desired behavior) and that the default advantage was trivial or nonexistent when decision times were longer. These effects replicated for naturalistic as well as externally induced decision times and were present even when participants were unaware that time was limited. This research has critical implications for psychological science and allied disciplines concerned with policy in the domains of public health, finance and economics, marketing, and environmental sciences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)543-569
Number of pages27
JournalSocial Cognition
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2021


  • Action
  • Decision making
  • Default effect
  • Donation
  • Evaluations
  • Inaction
  • Time

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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