Tracking the Cost Heuristic: A Rule of Thumb in Choice of Counterfinal Means
Kruglanski, Arie W
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Domain-specific empirical evidence shows that people sometimes infer a correlation between the cost of an item or behavior (e.g., price, effort) and its quality or efficacy (e.g., Labroo & Kim, 2009; Shiv, Carmon, & Ariely. 2005). In the present research, I proposed and tested a general mechanism that may underlie these instantiations. I termed this mechanism the cost heuristic, whereby people may infer that if a means is costly or detrimental to alternative goal(s) (i.e., counterfinal), then it must be highly instrumental to whatever focal goal it serves. Three preliminary studies provided inconsistent support for the cost heuristic. However, two of these studies suggested that a reverse halo effect (Thorndike, 1920) might have interfered with the cost heuristic. In three additional studies, I controlled for this reverse halo effect and tested more nuanced hypotheses about conditions under which the cost heuristic might be particularly likely to emerge. In Study 1, after statistically controlling for reverse halo effects, I found marginal support for a general cost heuristic, but not for the proposed moderators of alternative goal magnitude and the perceived ecological validity of the cost heuristic. In Study 2, the alternative goal magnitude manipulation was only effective in one goal domain; however, in this domain the results fully supported the hypothesis. Those who perceived the cost heuristic as ecologically valid were more likely to exhibit it under high (vs. low) alternative goal magnitude, whereas for those who did not perceive it as ecologically valid, alternative goal magnitude did not make a difference. In Study 3, the results did not support my hypothesis, but rather suggested that the vignettes' length/complexity may have obscured the detrimentality cue on which the cost heuristic is based. Taken together, the evidence from these studies is suggestive but inconclusive with regard to a cost heuristic and the conditions under which it might manifest. Limitations and future directions are discussed.