Abstraction to Increase Effort (and Spending)

When there is a medi­um placed between our effort and a desired out­come, we strive to max­im­ise this medi­um regard­less of wheth­er or not it leads optim­ally to that out­come (think points or vir­tu­al cur­ren­cies as a medi­um when attempt­ing to obtain goods).

That’s my attempt at a con­cise sum­mary of the find­ings from a study coin­ing the phrase ‘medi­um max­im­isa­tion’.

This example taken from the paper (pdf) and presen­ted by The New York Times may help:

Stu­dents were giv­en a choice between two simple tasks. One would take six minutes, and the stu­dents were told that they would get a gal­lon of Haa­gen-Dazs vanilla ice cream as a reward. The oth­er would require sev­en minutes of work, and the pay­ment would be a gal­lon of Haa­gen-Dazs pista­chio.

Not sur­pris­ingly, since the second option involved more work and a less pop­u­lar fla­vor, only about a quarter of the stu­dents chose it.

But the research­ers also repeated the exper­i­ment with a couple of tweaks. In the new ver­sion, the six-minute task led to a pay­off of 60 points, and the sev­en-minute task brought 100 points.

The research­ers then told the stu­dents that any­one who fin­ished with between 50 and 99 points would be giv­en a gal­lon of vanilla ice cream. Any­one with 100 points would get pista­chio.

Prac­tic­ally, there was no dif­fer­ence between the two exper­i­ments. But the out­comes ended up being very dif­fer­ent.

In the com­ments of a pre­vi­ous post of mine look­ing at the denom­in­a­tion effect, the idea that “the great­er the level of abstrac­tion, the more ready we are to spend” was mooted. So it seems to be the case here.

via @BFchirpy