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Consumers susceptible to number confusion

CHICAGO, Feb. 14 (UPI) -- Consumers often have distorted perceptions when they are given product information that involves numbers, a European study indicates.

A University of Chicago Press Journals release reported the authors, in their study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, asked the question, "As a consumer, would your preference for a dishwasher depend on whether its warranty level is expressed in months rather than years?"

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To most consumers, the researchers found, the answer is "yes," as they perceived the difference between an 84-month and a 108-month warranty as bigger than the difference between a seven-year and a nine-year warranty -- despite the fact that both differences are exactly the same.

"Qualitative information can usually be specified in alternative units," the researchers wrote. "For instance, product quality ratings may be expressed on a scale from 0 to 10 or on a scale from 0 to 100.

"People typically fail to realize that the unit of quantitative information is arbitrary. They just focus on the number of scale units used to express a certain difference."

As a result, researchers say, higher numbers seem to represent bigger quantities. This "unit effect" is why consumers perceive a bigger difference between ratings 90 and 95 out of 100 than they do between a 9 or 9.5 out of 10.

And that's why many consumers believe 36 months is longer than 3 years, the researchers found.

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