Action Simulations in Acquisition Cost Estimates

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Consumers often lack objective information about product acquisition costs. In such cases, consumers must rely on estimates of acquisition costs in making their choices. The current work examines the influence of mental simulations of product acquisition on estimates of acquisition costs. We suggest that simulations of product acquisition lead estimates to reflect the influence of consumers' current physical states on the experience of a particular cost. Specifically, carrying a heavy burden leads consumers to estimate higher distances to targets when they engage in simulation of walking to targets, but not when they do not engage in such simulation.

Simulation can be either deliberate or spontaneous. Deliberate simulation is engaged when consumers intentionally simulate an action. Spontaneous simulation requires particular conditions for its occurrence, but does not require conscious intent. The specific conditions for the occurrence of spontaneous simulation are the availability of situational inputs and that action be possible in the given situation. We support these ideas in a series of studies.

Study 1 demonstrates preference shifts that occur as a consequence of participants carrying heavy burdens. Participants in this study shifted their preference from an option located a visible but undefined distance away towards one that was available at their current location. Study 2 supports the theory that this shift occurs as a consequence of alterations in estimates of acquisition costs by showing that burdened participants estimate distances as greater than do unburdened participants.

Study 3 provides evidence for the role of mental simulation in producing such changes in estimated acquisition costs by showing that the distance expansion first demonstrated in study 2 occurs when targets are visible, but not when targets are not visible. This result is consistent with the central contention of this dissertation that visibility is critical for spontaneous simulation. Together, the studies support the role of spontaneous simulation in burden leading to distance expansion. Study 4 provides further support for the role of simulation in producing the effects of physical state on estimated acquisition costs by showing deliberate simulation results in similar distance to that of spontaneous simulation.

Studies 5 and 6 further demonstrate the dual roles of spontaneous and deliberate simulation on distance expansion. They show that expansion does not occur when targets are not reachable because they are up in the air (study 5). However, deliberate simulation of realistic (climbing - study 5) or unrealistic (flying - study 6) action restores distance expansion in those circumstances, supporting the role of simulation in leading to consideration of physical state in estimated acquisition costs.

The final study ties together these results by demonstrating the effects of both spontaneous and deliberate simulation in a single setting. Varying both the availability of conditions supporting spontaneous simulation and instructions for deliberate simulation the study allows an examination of the comparative effects of the two types of simulation and of their potential interaction. The study finds that deliberate simulation may produce effects that are larger than those of spontaneous simulation, but spontaneous simulation does not seem to enhance the effects of deliberate simulation.





Tal, Aner (2009). Action Simulations in Acquisition Cost Estimates. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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