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The Psycholoy of Numbers

October 26, 2010

How do you set the price of your product or service?! How do you choose what to discount your items to in your social game?! How do your predict what sale price will increase the numbers sales?! You might think most people will tend to consider a lower price to be better, but according one study you would be mistaken.

One thing you learn from psychology is that most people are not rational. Some are more rational than others, but most are not rational.

One might think that if someone is looking for a "best" deal, that they would perceive the lower price as being "better", as this would be what is rational. However, this is not the case with most people. The way the numbers of a price sound can affect most people's perception of which price they think is the "better" deal. For example, participants [in the psychological study] perceived a $10 item marked down to $7.66 to be a greater discount than a $10 item discounted to $7.22 when those prices were said out load. [T]he higher price (with its silky s’s) makes a smaller sound than the lower price (with its rattling t’s).

The moral one can take from this is, as irrational as it is, small sounds give most people the impression of a better deal.

Because of the acoustic properties of our vocal apparatus, some words just sound bigger than others. The back vowels (the “u” in buck) sound bigger than the front vowels (the “i” in sis), and the stops (the “b” in buck) sound bigger than the fricatives (the “s” in sis). As it turns out, in well over 100 languages, the words that denote bigness are made with bigger sounds.

Previous research has demonstrated that people associate certain vowel and consonant sounds with perceptions of physical size. For example, front vowels (like a long a, e, i) and fricatives (like the English f, z, and s) have been shown to convey smallness, while back vowels (sounds like the /u/ in goose or the sound in foot) indicate largeness.

"Phonetic symbolism affects price perceptions because consumers typically process, encode, and retain numbers (and hence prices) in memory in multiple formats," the authors write. Consumers encode what a price looks like and sounds like along with a relative numeric value that the price represents (such as, "It is inexpensive").

"Thus, sounds associated with the auditory representation can impact the numeric value associated with the analog representation -- that is, small sounds can create the impression of big deals," the authors write.

(Source 1) (Source 2)

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