Perception Matters: The “unit effect”

Saw this today on

“The human brain engages in all sorts of mental shortcuts in order to make quick judgements about the world, and some of them make us vulnerable to marketing. For example, consumers will readily attach weight to completely fictitious product statistics, preferring items with the most bogomips, even if they have no idea of what the significance of that figure is. That may be disappointing, but apparently it’s even worse than that—even when they do know what the units are, people tend to prefer a bigger number. As a newly released study shows, people would rather pay for expedited service to get things in 31 days than they would to get it in one month.”

It appears that the subjects of the study used “cue-based” processing.  That is, rather than evaluating the content of the arguments, they focused on cues (the mental shortcuts) for their decision making.  This is an interesting demonstration of the Elaboration Likelihood Model of persuasion (ELM).  One of the basic ideas behind the ELM is that we are more likely to evaluate the content of arguments when we have both the motivation and ability to do so.  I’d be curious to know if the authors of the study accounted for this somehow.

The Frameworks Institute has published their findings on the use of numbers and framing here.

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