Attaching a cost to thinking

Author: Becky Wiese

Do you have a reputation as a big spender? Take comfort—you’re probably also a “cognitive miser.”

Marketing Professor Timothy Gilbride has been investigating how consumers screen out choices to lessen the burden of decision making, drawing useful conclusions about what product attributes are important to which consumers.

Gilbride’s line of work involves translating theories of marketing behavior from economics or psychology into mathematical models. He then develops statistical procedures to test them with data from real marketing decisions.

In a study published in Marketing Science, Gilbride and a colleague proposed a model to describe how respondents chose Advanced Photo System (APS) cameras. They established that 92 percent screened choices based on only one or two attributes, such as body style, zoom or price.

“If certain attributes are associated with low levels of utility or products you don’t like very much, then it’s not worth your effort to consider all those attributes. There’s a cost to thinking,” Gilbride explains.

“Marketing managers intuitively know that there are these separations. What we’ve done is create mathematical and statistical models they can use to test where these breakpoints are for people,” he says.

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