Some core ideas in behavioral economics focus on people’s propensity to do nothing, as evident in default bias and status quo bias. Inaction may be due to a number of factors, including inertia or anticipated regret. However, sometimes people have an impulse to act in order to gain a sense of control over a situation and eliminate a problem. This has been termed the action bias (Patt & Zeckhauser, 2000). For example, a person may opt for a medical treatment rather than a no-treatment alternative, even though clinical trials have not supported the treatment’s effectiveness.

Action bias is particularly likely to occur if we do something for others or others expect us to act (see social norms), as illustrated by the tendency for soccer goal keepers to jump to left or right on penalty kicks, even though statistically they would be better off if they just stayed in the middle of the goal (Bar-Eli et al., 2007). Action bias may also be more likely among overconfident individuals or if a person has experienced prior negative outcomes (Zeelenberg et al., 2002), where subsequent inaction would be a failure to do something to improve the situation.


Bar-Eli, M., Azar, O. H., Ritov, I., Keidar-Levin, Y., & Schein, G. (2007). Action bias among elite soccer goalkeepers: The case of penalty kicks. Journal of Economic Psychology, 28(5), 606-621.

Patt, A., & Zeckhauser, R. (2000). Action bias and environmental decisions. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 21, 45-72.

Zeelenberg, M., Van den Bos, K., Van Dijk, E., & Pieters, R. (2002). The inaction effect in the psychology of regret. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82(3), 314-327.