The Hidden-Zero Effect: Representing a Single Choice as an Extended Sequence Reduces Impulsive Choice

Publication Date:
Jan 2008
Published In:
Project Programs:
Behavioral Economics

Our study was conducted on-line with two general-population samples, recruited through on-line advertisements. Participants in Sample 1 made choices about hypothetical monetary rewards. Participants in Sample 2 made choices about real monetary rewards and were informed in advance that one of their choices would serve as the basis for their payment. Therefore, participants in this sample were motivated to base each choice on what they would actually like to receive, as any choice might be the one that would determine the magnitude and timing of their payment. Despite the fact that the hidden-zero and explicit-zero formats of presentation were logically equivalent, the latter resulted in lower rates of impulsive choice, possibly because the explicit-zero format caused each choice to appear as a sequence, thereby encouraging people to select the improving sequence. The explicit-zero format may also draw attention to the opportunity cost of each choice, thereby encouraging people to choose the alternative that incurs a lower opportunity cost. Additional research is required to elucidate the underlying mechanism of the effect observed in this study, and to test this effect in real-world settings. The data presented here demonstrate how changing the construal of outcomes, even without changing their objective values, can have a powerful impact on individuals' ability to consider the future consequences of their decisions.


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