Round numbers preferred over exact figures by consumers

Researchers at the Lally School of Management at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have published a new study in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Process wherein they have highlighted how consumers prefer round numbers rather than the exact figures even though the exact figures may be much better than the rounded ones.

The idea of the study was to explore an area of behavioral economics research pertaining to attribute framing, which evaluates how people make decisions based on the manner in which information is presented. Considering an example, scientists say that a vaccine for the novel coronavirus has been developed that is 91.27% effective. If public health officials present this information using the specific number, people are likely to think the vaccine is actually less effective than if it is presented as being 90% effective.

For decades, researchers in this field have been focused on the attributes, the adjectives, and other words that describe what is being measured.

In this paper researchers looked at the numbers that are used in the frames themselves.¬†Using six sets of data with more than 1,500 participants researchers considered what would happen to peoples’ perception of information when specific, or non-round, numbers were used instead of round numbers.

The research showed that people find non-round numbers unique and jarring. Jain and his team determined that people pause to think about the specific number due to its uniqueness. Because it isn’t easy to comprehend, people tend to compare the non-round number to an easily understood ideal standard — like 100%. Then, because the specific number doesn’t live up to the ideal, people perceive it negatively.

The team explored this question using standard behavioral economic research scenarios and not a specific question; however, such as communications regarding a potential coronavirus vaccine, this research has direct and critical impact in marketing and public health messaging.

The study also helps to add to the theoretical understanding of attribute framing. The study offers an elaborated process account for the attention-association-based reasoning for framing effects in general, which adds to the scarce literature on processes underlying framing effects.