15,000 Coin Tosses and Counting

Freakonomics Experiments has succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.

We’ve already had more than 15,000 coin tosses.

The single most popular question: “Should I quit my job?”

There also seem to be a whole lot of troubled relationships out there. But not many people agonizing over whether to grow a beard.

Here’s Tim Harford’s take on the project in a cleverly written Financial Times piece.

Jonathan Amos

I find the most interesting thing about a choice you decide to use a coin flip for is that when the coin is in the air, you start to "hope" which way the coin will land. Which essentially answers your question of what choice you should make as its the decision you HOPE for.


Exactly - I almost never get to the point of actually flipping the coin. I pull the coin out, pick which side means what, and almost immediately I think "ooh, I hope it's x!" Then I put the coin away and do whatever it was I found myself hoping for.

The funny thing is I've tried figuring out that hidden preference without the coin and it just doesn't work. I have to commit to letting my choice be decided by chance before I can turn that hidden preference into conscious thought.

Caleb B

Really, the question "should I quit my job" probably means the answer is yes.


What it really means is someone doesn't like their job. It doesn't always mean it is the right move at the time. If someone has young kids (or college kids), and a mortgage, and car payments, it is not a slam dunk answer. Is there a job waiting for you, that can meet your financial needs, or are you thinking of starting a business? On the flipside, if someone doesn;t need the job for financial reasons, then by all means it could be the ideal time to quit, and a coin flip can only sidetrack the move.


I just got my one month notice. I can't wait for my 2 month anniversary to get here so I can fill out the survey. You guys add so much entertainment to my life, this is the least I can do!

Fabio Storino

I found a quote very relevant to this experiment. From Albert Bregman, emeritus professor Psicology at McGill University:

... he also gave me some of the best advice I've ever received. Trying to decide whether to major in psychology or art history, I had gone to his office to see what he thought. He squinted and lowered his head. "Is this a hard choice for you?" he demanded. Yes! I cried. "Oh," he said, springing back cheerfully. "In that case, it doesn't matter. If it's a hard decision, then there's always lots to be said on both sides, so either choice is likely to be good on its way. Hard choices are always unimportant."



I once read a great way to use a coin toss to make a decision when you're stuck: Flip the coin, then gauge your reaction to the outcome. If you're relieved, go with the coin toss. If you're not, go with the opposite. Works rather nicely!

Daniel Aharon


Selection bias at work here. Most people go to more personal [or too personal ;)] websites at home. Freakonomics.com is the kind that you could visit while at work and still seem to be doing something valuable.

The rest is driven by the setting; you are in the office, with either little to do or procrastinating because of disinterest, you come across a coin flipping digital contraption on the screen - what's going to be your question, man!! :)