There are few things in this world that are completely 50/50, but the flip of a coin is one of them. You either get heads or tails, though there are freakishly rare exceptions where the coin lands on its edge, but we’ll ignore that. Flipping a coin is used to determine many things, with a bulk of them being mostly inconsequential such as who will get the ball to start the first half of a football game.
However, there are some people that are willing to make major life decisions based on the true 50/50 nature of a coin flip. It may seem a little high stake to determine whether or not you quit your job or get married based on how an inanimate object lands on the ground, but there is some merit to leaving things up to chance. In fact, studies have shown that people who do this actually tend to end up happier in life.
One of the more prestigious universities in the United States, the University of Chicago, asked participants to make major choices with the coin. To make sure that these people weren’t ignoring the coin and going through with things, a third party was present to hold them accountable over the course of six months.
This caused the participants to leave their comfort zone, breaking away from traditional methods of doing things. Professor Steven Levitt helped with the study, and he noted that “Society teaches us ‘quitters never win and winners never quit,’ but in reality, the data from my experiment suggests we would all be better off if we did more quitting.”
Upon the conclusion of his study, Dr. Levitt said that “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 (study) suggest that people may be excessively cautious when facing life-changing choices.”
While some were skeptical about the study’s results, there were many neurologists that found it interesting, and even supported the results. Doctors Hans Hagemann and Friederike Fabritius wrote that flipping a coin is a fantastic idea when faced with two total choices, even if you don’t listen to the coin itself at first.
“If you’re satisfied or relieved by the decision the coin made for you, then go with it,” they said. “On the other hand, if the realist of the coin toss leaves you uneasy and even makes you wonder why you used a coin toss to decide such an important decision in the first place, then go with the other choice instead.”
Simply, the psychology behind the coin flip can reaffirm the decisions that you’re making. People will tend to hope that one side of the coin comes out on top so that they don’t have to leave their comfort zone or go with the “unconventional” decision. You’re stimulating your brain by taking part in this exercise of random chance no matter the result.
There is even an entire philosophy based around flipping a coin called Flipism. Interestingly enough, the idea for this becoming a philosophy came from a Donald Duck comic strip when one character is dubbed a “flippist” and teaches the famous cartoon character to follow in his coin-flipping footsteps. In the end, though, using the coin gets Donald into trouble, thus the idea of Flipism was founded in skepticism.
There are arguments to be made against flipping a coin to determine major decisions, but it can still be used in fun ways for minor decisions. Can’t decide on what to eat for dinner or which show to watch? Let the coin decide with no consequences. If you want to use the coin for big decisions, there is some caution to use, but as the studies say, you may end up happier.