Scope Insensitivity and the "Mere Token" Effect
Coauthor(s): Oleg Urminsky.
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Decisions often involve tradeoffs between a more normative option and a less normative but more tempting option. We propose that the intrapersonal conflict evoked by choices involving
incompatible goals is resolved through scope insensitive justifications. We describe one such
mechanism, the "mere token" effect, a new phenomenon in decision-making. We demonstrate
that adding a certain and immediate "mere token" amount to both options increases choices of
the later-larger option in intertemporal choice and of the riskier-larger option in risky choice.
This effect is found to be scope insensitive, such that the size of the "mere" token amount does
not moderate the effect. We show that reducing the degree of intrapersonal choice conflict,
either by increasing the psychological distance to the choice outcomes or by framing the more
rational option as the status quo, debiases the effect. Further, we show that the mere token effect
is enhanced when the options represent a starker contrast that heightens the emotional nature of
the choice conflict. We empirically rule out a series of alternative explanations, including
normative and descriptive utility-based models, perceptual effects, liquidity constraints, and
naïve diversification. We discuss the direct implications of the mere token effect for the
marketing of financial services and, more generally, for consumer purchases involving either
bundles of goods and services or multi-attribute choice.
Source: Journal of Marketing Research
Urminsky, Oleg, and Ran Kivetz. "Scope Insensitivity and the 'Mere Token' Effect." Journal of Marketing Research 48, no. 2 (2011): 282-295.