Scope Insensitivity and the 'Mere Token' Effect
Journal of Marketing Research, April 2011, Vol. 48, No. 2: 282-295
3 Pages Posted: 18 Feb 2016 Last revised: 6 Sep 2019
Date Written: April 1, 2011
Decisions often involve trade-offs between a more normative option and a less normative but more tempting one. The authors propose that the intrapersonal conflict that is evoked by choices involving incompatible goals can be resolved through scope-insensitive justifications. The authors describe one such mechanism, the “mere token” effect, a new phenomenon in decision making. They demonstrate that adding a certain and immediate mere token amount to both options increases choices of the later-larger option in intertemporal choice and of the riskier-larger option in risky choice. The authors find this effect to be scope insensitive, such that the size of the token amount does not moderate the effect. They show that intrapersonal choice conflict underlies the mere token effect and that reducing the degree of conflict by increasing the psychological distance to the choice outcomes debiases the effect. Moreover, they show that the mere token effect is enhanced when (1) opposing goals in choice are made salient and (2) the choice options represent a starker contrast that generates greater conflict. The authors empirically rule out alternative explanations, including diminishing marginal utility, normative and descriptive utility-based models, liquidity constraints, and naive diversification. They discuss the direct implications of the mere token effect for the marketing of financial services and, more generally, for consumer preference toward bundles and multiattribute products.
Keywords: choice conflict, intertemporal choice, risky choice, financial decision making, justification
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