Attribution Bias in Economic Decision Making

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Date and Time: 
Monday, November 9, 2015
2:00 pm – 3:30 pm
Devin G. Pope
University of Chicago Booth

When making a judgment about the value of a good, people may be overly influenced by the temporary state in which they previously consumed it. For example, eating a meal at a new restaurant while very hungry may cause an individual to subsequently rate the quality of the restaurant to be artificially high. We produce a simple framework for this form of attribution bias that embeds a standard model of decision making as a special case. We provide two empirical tests of attribution bias in consumer decisions. First, we conduct an experiment in which we randomly manipulate the thirst of participants prior to a new consumption experience. Second, using data from thousands of amusement park visitors, we explore how the pleasantness of the weather during their most recent trip impacts their stated return
likelihoods. In both of these domains, we find evidence that people misattribute the impact of a temporary state to a stable quality of the consumption good. We provide evidence against several alternative accounts for our findings and discuss the broader implications of attribution bias in economic decision making.