The Accuracy of Less: Natural Bounds Explain Why Quantity Decreases Are Estimated More Accurately Than Quantity Increases

Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Forthcoming

INSEAD Working Paper No. 2016/89/MKT

59 Pages Posted: 28 Nov 2016 Last revised: 10 Jan 2017

Date Written: November 2, 2016

Abstract

Five studies show that people, including experts such as professional chefs, estimate quantity decreases more accurately than quantity increases. We argue that this asymmetry occurs because physical quantities cannot be negative. Consequently, there is a natural lower bound (zero) when estimating decreasing quantities but no upper bound when estimating increasing quantities, which can theoretically grow to infinity. As a result, the “accuracy of less” disappears (a) when a numerical or a natural upper bound is present when estimating quantity increases, or (b) when people are asked to estimate the (unbounded) ratio of change from one size to another for both increasing and decreasing quantities. Ruling out explanations related to loss aversion, symbolic number mapping, and the visual arrangement of the stimuli, we show that the “accuracy of less” influences choice and demonstrate its robustness in a meta-analysis that includes previously published results. Finally, we discuss how the “accuracy of less” may explain asymmetric reactions to the supersizing and downsizing of food portions, some instances of the endowment effect, and asymmetries in the perception of increases and decreases in physical and psychological distance.

Keywords: Estimation, Psychophysics, Food, Marketing, Packaging, Perception, Psychology

JEL Classification: I12, I18, M31, M37, M39, Q18, L66

Suggested Citation

Chandon, Pierre and Ordabayeva, Nailya, The Accuracy of Less: Natural Bounds Explain Why Quantity Decreases Are Estimated More Accurately Than Quantity Increases (November 2, 2016). Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Forthcoming; INSEAD Working Paper No. 2016/89/MKT. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2875196 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2875196

Pierre Chandon (Contact Author)

INSEAD ( email )

Boulevard de Constance
77305 Fontainebleau Cedex
France

Nailya Ordabayeva

Boston College ( email )

140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467
United States

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