The effect of metric and scale on environmental decision making
Richard Larrick, Adrian Camilleri
The goal of this project was to investigate whether an individual’s valuation of improved efficiency is influenced by the metric and scale of the efficiency information they are presented with. We have conducted eight online experiments that have combined and manipulated the following variables: metric, scale, cost-minimizing option, whether differences between options have been pre-calculated; whether sum totals of costs within options have been pre-calculated. Our specific objectives were to test the effect of metric and scale changes on preference for energy efficient (EE) vehicles. Drawing on past research, we predicted 1) that expressing efficiency improvements in terms of dollar costs would lead to a stronger preference for EE vehicles compared to the same efficiency information presented as gas consumption and 2) expressing efficiency outcomes on larger scales (e.g., 100,000 miles of driving) would lead to a stronger prefer preference for EE vehicles compared to the same efficiency information presented on smaller scales (e.g., 15,000 miles of driving).
- People’s expectations of future use of a product such as a car are influenced by the scale that efficiency information associated with that product is expressed upon. This expectation subsequently influences choice.
- We found that people are more likely to select efficient products when efficiency information is presented in terms of cost of energy over a lifetime period. This basic finding holds across which option is cost-minimizing option, whether differences between options have been pre-calculated, and whether sum totals of costs within options have been pre-calculated.
- The findings of our research inform policy-makers, marketers, and consumers about how translating a product’s characteristics into different metrics and across different scales can change people’s choices.