About | HeinOnline Law Journal Library | HeinOnline Law Journal Library | HeinOnline

36 Law & Hum. Behav. 293 (2012)
Blind Consent? A Social Psychological Investigation of Non-Readership of Click-through Agreements

handle is hein.journals/lwhmbv36 and id is 291 raw text is: Law and Human Behavior
2012. Vol. 36. No. 4. 293-311

© 2011 American Psychological Association
0147-7307/11/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/h0093969

Blind Consent? A Social Psychological Investigation of Non-Readership of
Click-Through Agreements
Victoria C. Plaut and Robert P. Bartlett, III
UC Berkeley School of Law
Across two studies we aimed to measure empirically the extent of non-readership of click-through
agreements (CTAs), identify the dominant beliefs about CTAs contributing to non-readership, and
experimentally manipulate these beliefs to decrease automatic non-reading behavior and enhance
contract efficiency. In our initial questionnaire study (Study 1), as predicted, the vast majority of
participants reported not reading CTAs and the most prevalent beliefs about CTAs contributing to
nonreadership included: they are too long and time-consuming, they are all the same, they give one no
choice but to agree, they are irrelevant, and vendors are generally reputable. Manipulating these beliefs
on a simulated music website (Study 2) revealed an increase in readership. In addition, CTA compre-
hension and CTA rejection rates were both increased significantly by manipulating the length of the
CTA. These results demonstrate support for the influence of widely held beliefs about CTAs on contract
readership, provide evidence against the common limited cognition perspective on non-readership, and
suggest that presenting CTAs in a short, readable format can increase CTA read-ership and comprehen-
sion as well as shopping of CTA terms.
Keywords: form contracts, disclosure, non-readership, construal, widespread beliefs

It is now widely accepted that a primary contributing factor to
the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007-2008 was the marketing of
adjustable-rate mortgages to borrowers who had little understand-
ing of their underlying risks. A central focus of financial reform
following the housing crisis has accordingly been to ensure that
individuals are better informed about the contract terms that gov-
ern their consumer credit transactions -a goal featured most no-
tably in the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
As summarized by Warren (2010), its chief architect, the new
consumer bureau is based on a pretty simple idea: people ought to
be able to read their credit card and mortgage contracts and know
This article was published Online First June 16, 2011.
Victoria C. Plaut and Robert P. Bartlett, III, UC Berkeley School of Law,
Berkeley, California.
This research was funded by a University of Georgia Research Foun-
dation faculty grant to both authors. We thank Niki Schley, Kati Cooper,
Robert Boone, Jessica Fowler, Bryan Williamson, and Jackie Simms for
their research assistance, UGA's CITP group for programming the PDM
website, and Alem Tecle and Leslie Stone for assistance with manuscript
preparation. This article also benefited from comments received from Rob
MacCoun, Jeffrey Rachlinski, and participants in Berkeley's Law and
Economics Seminar, Cornell's Law and Economics Colloquium, NYU's
Law and Economics Seminar, the Faculty Colloquium at University of
Georgia School of Law, and the contracts section of the 2009 annual
meeting of the Association of American Law Schools.
Victoria C. Plaut and Robert P. Bartlett, III contributed equally to this
article. Order was determined at random.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Victoria
C. Plaut, UC Berkeley School of Law, 591 Simon Hall, Berkeley, CA
94720-7200, USA. E-mail: vplaut@law.berkeley.edu; or Robert P. Bar-
tlett, III, UC Berkeley School of Law, 890 Simon Hall, Berkeley, CA
94720-7200, USA. E-mail: rbartlett@law.berkeley.edu

the deal. Yet, notwithstanding the simplicity of this idea, a rather
complicated empirical fact promises to make its realization a
formidable challenge: In particular, consumers have long refused
to read mass market contracts (Eisenberg, 1995).
Why don't consumers read form contracts? Are there any con-
ditions under which efforts to enhance consumer readership might
actually succeed? To get at these questions, we undertake a psy-
chological investigation of the causes of non-readership of mass
market contracts in one of the most notorious domains of con-
sumer non-readership: Internet click-through agreements (CTAs).
Used by online vendors to set forth their legal relationship with
consumers (Kunz, Del Duca, Thayer, & Debrow, 2001), CTAs are
ubiquitous in the online world. Requiring but a simple mouse click
of I agree to be formed, CTAs are commonly used to establish
the terms of use of a website, the terms on which a consumer may
download and use a software program, or even the terms on which
a consumer can apply for a home mortgage or credit card.
As with standard, paper-based contracts, anecdotal evidence and
recent empirical research indicates that individuals overwhelm-
ingly make the choice to accept but not read-CTAs (Bakows,
Marotta-Wurgler, & Trossen, 2009; Becher & Unger-Aviram,
2008; Hillman, 2006a). This documented phenomenon of blind
consent thus makes CTAs a natural starting point for investigat-
ing the causes of consumer non-readership. At the same time, the
fact that CTAs are presented, assessed, and accepted entirely in an
online environment provides a unique opportunity to subject con-
sumer behavior to experimental analysis given the ability to elec-
tronically monitor contract reading.
Non-readership of CTAs also poses important public policy
considerations in its own right. Like their older, paper-based
cousins, CTAs generally constitute enforceable contracts given
that legal doctrine requires simply that an individual manifest


What Is HeinOnline?

HeinOnline is a subscription-based resource containing thousands of academic and legal journals from inception; complete coverage of government documents such as U.S. Statutes at Large, U.S. Code, Federal Register, Code of Federal Regulations, U.S. Reports, and much more. Documents are image-based, fully searchable PDFs with the authority of print combined with the accessibility of a user-friendly and powerful database. For more information, request a quote or trial for your organization below.

Short-term subscription options include 24 hours, 48 hours, or 1 week to HeinOnline.

Contact us for annual subscription options:

Already a HeinOnline Subscriber?

profiles profiles most