An interesting piece of work from Ongchoco et al.:
Numbers can be unexpectedly powerful. Suppose you must provide the last two digits of your social security number (SSN), after which you are asked how much you are willing to pay for a bottle of wine. Though your SSN digits are irrelevant to your valuation judgment, they nonetheless influence numerical estimates, such that lower SSN digits lead to lower valuations and higher SSN digits, to higher valuations. Such “anchoring” effects are extremely prevalent and powerful. Here, we demonstrate how a feature of low-level visual perception—the spontaneous segmentation of experience at event boundaries, as when you simply walk through a doorway—can restrict or even eliminate anchoring effects across economic valuations, factual questions, and legal judgments.Abstract
Research on higher-level thought has revealed many principles of reasoning and decision-making but has rarely made contact with how we perceive the world in the first place. Here we show how a lower-level property of perception—the spontaneous and task-irrelevant segmentation of continuous visual stimulation into discrete events—can restrict one of the most notorious biases in decision-making: numerical anchoring. Subjects walked down a long room in an immersive three dimensional (3D) animation and then made a numerical judgment (e.g., of how much a suitcase is worth, or of how many hours of community service a minor crime deserved). Critically, some subjects passed through a doorway (a visual event boundary) during their virtual walk, while others did not—equating time, distance traveled, and visual complexity. The anchoring manipulation was especially innocuous, not appearing to be part of the experiment at all. Before the online trial began, subjects reported the two-digit numerical value from a visually distorted “CAPTCHA” (“to verify that you are human”)—where this task-irrelevant anchor was either low (e.g., 29) or high (e.g., 92). With no doorway, we observed reliable anchoring effects: Higher CAPTCHA values produced higher estimates. With the doorway, however, such effects were attenuated or even eliminated. This generalized across tasks involving item valuations, factual questions, and legal judgments and in tests of both incidental and explicit anchoring. This demonstrates how spontaneous visual event segmentation can have profound consequences for higher-level thought.