One might assume that the more there is of a desired item the more favorable evaluation that item receives. For example, ice cream lovers would always be willing to pay more for more ice cream. An article published in the latest issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science suggests that this is not always so.
Imagine two servings of ice cream, one featuring a five-ounce cup overfilled with seven ounces, the other a ten-ounce cup filled with only eight ounces. Objectively the under-filled serving is better, because it contains more. But a study conducted by Christopher Hsee found that unless these two servings are presented side by side, the seven-ounce serving is actually considered more valuable. Apparently, people do not base their judgment on the amount of ice cream available, which is difficult to evaluate in isolation. Instead, they rely on an easy-to-evaluate cue: whether the serving is overfilled or under-filled. Overfilling evokes positive feelings while under-filling evokes negative feelings, and these feelings dictate people's evaluations. "Consequently, in decision making, more often seems better, yet in life, more is often not better," the authors conclude.
When the wanted item cannot be compared to another object or the evaluation depends on feelings, people become magnitude insensitive. This occurs in what the authors call single-evaluation mode-- where only one stimulus is presented and it is evaluated in isolation. Basically, when we don't know what we are missing, we are happy with our decisions.
The article published in the latest issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science offers a theory about when people are sensitive to magnitude and when they are not and uses the theory to discuss the ice-cream finding as well as other related findings.
Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the American Psychological Society, presents the latest advances in theory and research in psychology. This important and timely journal contains concise reviews spanning all of scientific psychology and its applications.
Christopher K. Hsee is a Theodore O. Yntema professor of behavioral sciences and marketing at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. His main research interests include the interplay between psychology and economics, the relationship between choice and consumption experience.
Yuval Rottenstreich is an associate professor of Management at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University. His research examines individual choice processes and their implications for organizational and consumer behavior.
The American Psychological Society represents psychologists advocating science-based research in the public's interest. For more information, please visit www.psychologicalscience.org
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