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Heuristic Thinking and Limited Attention in the Car Market


  • Nicola Lacetera
  • Devin G. Pope
  • Justin R. Sydnor


Can heuristic information processing affect important product markets? Analyzing over 22 million wholesale used-car transactions, we find evidence of left-digit bias in the processing of odometer values, whereby individuals focus on the number's leftmost digits. The bias leads to discontinuous drops in sale prices at 10,000-mile odometer thresholds, along with smaller drops at 1,000-mile thresholds. These findings reveal that information-processing heuristics matter even in markets with large stakes and easily observed information. We model left-digit bias in an inattention framework and structurally estimate the inattention parameter. Empirical patterns suggest the results are driven by final customers rather than professional agents. (JEL D12, D44, D83, L81)

Suggested Citation

  • Nicola Lacetera & Devin G. Pope & Justin R. Sydnor, 2012. "Heuristic Thinking and Limited Attention in the Car Market," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(5), pages 2206-2236, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:102:y:2012:i:5:p:2206-36

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Sendhil Mullainathan & Joshua Schwartzstein & Andrei Shleifer, 2008. "Coarse Thinking and Persuasion," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 123(2), pages 577-619.
    2. Xavier Gabaix & David Laibson, 2006. "Shrouded Attributes, Consumer Myopia, and Information Suppression in Competitive Markets," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 121(2), pages 505-540.
    3. Stefano Dellavigna & Joshua M. Pollet, 2009. "Investor Inattention and Friday Earnings Announcements," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 64(2), pages 709-749, April.
    4. Stefano DellaVigna & John A. List & Ulrike Malmendier, 2012. "Testing for Altruism and Social Pressure in Charitable Giving," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 127(1), pages 1-56.
    5. Pope, Devin G., 2009. "Reacting to rankings: Evidence from "America's Best Hospitals"," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 28(6), pages 1154-1165, December.
    6. David S. Lee & Thomas Lemieux, 2010. "Regression Discontinuity Designs in Economics," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 48(2), pages 281-355, June.
    7. Raj Chetty & Adam Looney & Kory Kroft, 2009. "Salience and Taxation: Theory and Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(4), pages 1145-1177, September.
    8. Jennifer Brown & Tanjim Hossain & John Morgan, 2010. "Shrouded Attributes and Information Suppression: Evidence from the Field," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 125(2), pages 859-876.
    9. Frank Scott & Aaron Yelowitz, 2010. "Pricing Anomalies In The Market For Diamonds: Evidence Of Conformist Behavior," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 48(2), pages 353-368, April.
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    JEL classification:

    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles
    • D12 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Empirical Analysis
    • L62 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Manufacturing - - - Automobiles; Other Transportation Equipment; Related Parts and Equipment


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