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Relative thinking theory

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  • Azar, Ofer H.

Abstract

The article presents a theory that I denote “Relative Thinking Theory,” which claims that people consider relative differences and not only absolute differences when making various economics decisions, even in those cases where the rational model dictates that people should consider only absolute differences. The article reviews experimental evidence for this behavior, summarizing briefly several experiments I conducted, as well as some earlier related literature. It then discusses how we can think about relative thinking and formalize this behavior. Later, the article addresses several related questions: why do people exhibit relative thinking, whether it is beneficial to do so, and whether experience and education can change relative thinking. Finally, the article explains why firms seem to respond to relative thinking of consumers, and raises additional implications of relative thinking for economics and management.
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  • Azar, Ofer H., 2007. "Relative thinking theory," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 36(1), pages 1-14, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:soceco:v:36:y:2007:i:1:p:1-14
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    1. John W. Pratt & David A. Wise & Richard Zeckhauser, 1979. "Price Differences in almost Competitive Markets," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 93(2), pages 189-211.
    2. Amos Tversky & Daniel Kahneman, 1991. "Loss Aversion in Riskless Choice: A Reference-Dependent Model," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 106(4), pages 1039-1061.
    3. Azar, Ofer H., 2007. "Relative thinking theory," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 36(1), pages 1-14, February.
    4. Richard H. Thaler, 2008. "Mental Accounting and Consumer Choice," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 27(1), pages 15-25, 01-02.
    5. Moon, Philip & Keasey, Kevin & Duxbury, Darren, 1999. "Mental accounting and decision making:: The relationship between relative and absolute savings," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 38(2), pages 145-153, February.
    6. Kahneman, Daniel & Tversky, Amos, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(2), pages 263-291, March.
    7. Frisch, Deborah, 1993. "Reasons for Framing Effects," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 54(3), pages 399-429, April.
    8. Azar, Ofer H., 2009. "Do consumers make too much effort to save on cheap items and too little to save on expensive items? experimental results and implications for business strategy," MPRA Paper 20962, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    9. Alan T. Sorensen, 2000. "Equilibrium Price Dispersion in Retail Markets for Prescription Drugs," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 108(4), pages 833-862, August.
    10. Thaler, Richard, 1980. "Toward a positive theory of consumer choice," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 39-60, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Rudy Douven & Ron van der Heijden & Thomas McGuire & Frederik T. Schut, 2017. "Premium Levels and Demand Response in Health Insurance: Relative Thinking and Zero-Price Effects," NBER Working Papers 23846, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Toshiaki Iizuka & Hitoshi Shigeoka, 2018. "Free for Children? Patient Cost-sharing and Healthcare Utilization," NBER Working Papers 25306, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Qin, Yu & Wu, Jing & Yan, Jubo, 2019. "Negotiating housing deal on a polluted day: Consequences and possible explanations," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 94(C), pages 161-187.
    4. Richter, Andries & Dakos, Vasilis, 2015. "Profit fluctuations signal eroding resilience of natural resources," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 117(C), pages 12-21.
    5. Rudy Douven & Ron van der Heijden & Thomas McGuire & Erik Schut, 2017. "Premium levels and demand response in health insurance: relative thinking and zero-price effects," CPB Discussion Paper 366, CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis.
    6. Douven, Rudy & van der Heijden, Ron & McGuire, Thomas & Schut, Frederik, 2020. "Premium levels and demand response in health insurance: relative thinking and zero-price effects," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 180(C), pages 903-923.
    7. Dertwinkel-Kalt, Markus & Köhler, Katrin, 2016. "Exchange asymmetries for bads? Experimental evidence," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 82(C), pages 231-241.
    8. Lembregts, Christophe & Pandelaere, Mario, 2014. ""A 20% income increase for everyone?": The effect of relative increases in income on perceived income inequality," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 43(C), pages 37-47.
    9. Azar, Ofer H., 2007. "Relative thinking theory," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 36(1), pages 1-14, February.
    10. Pedro Bordalo & Nicola Gennaioli & Andrei Shleifer, 2013. "Salience and Consumer Choice," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 121(5), pages 803-843.
    11. Kelly Shue & Richard R. Townsend, 2019. "Can the Market Multiply and Divide? Non-Proportional Thinking in Financial Markets," NBER Working Papers 25751, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Azar, Ofer H., 2008. "The effect of relative thinking on firm strategy and market outcomes: A location differentiation model with endogenous transportation costs," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 29(5), pages 684-697, November.
    13. Markus Dertwinkel-Kalt & Katrin Köhler & Mirjam R. J. Lange & Tobias Wenzel, 2017. "Demand Shifts Due to Salience Effects: Experimental Evidence," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 15(3), pages 626-653.
    14. Azar, Ofer H., 2009. "Do consumers make too much effort to save on cheap items and too little to save on expensive items? experimental results and implications for business strategy," MPRA Paper 20962, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    15. Azar, Ofer H., 2019. "Do fixed payments affect effort? Examining relative thinking in mixed compensation schemes," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 70(C), pages 52-66.
    16. Justine Hastings & Jesse M. Shapiro, 2012. "Mental Accounting and Consumer Choice: Evidence from Commodity Price Shocks," NBER Working Papers 18248, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    17. Clark, Derek J. & Mathisen, Terje Andreas, 2020. "Salience in a simple transport market," Research in Transportation Economics, Elsevier, vol. 82(C).
    18. Lynn, Michael & Jabbour, Patrick & Kim, Woo Gon, 2012. "Who uses tips as a reward for service and when? An examination of potential moderators of the service–tipping relationship," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 33(1), pages 90-103.
    19. Nicola Gennaioli & Alberto Martin & Stefano Rossi, 2014. "Sovereign Default, Domestic Banks, and Financial Institutions," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 69(2), pages 819-866, April.
    20. Don J. Webber & Michael Horswell, 2009. "Microeconomic foundations of geographical variations in labour productivity," Working Papers 0913, Department of Accounting, Economics and Finance, Bristol Business School, University of the West of England, Bristol.
    21. Azar, Ofer H., 2011. "Do people think about absolute or relative price differences when choosing between substitute goods?," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 32(3), pages 450-457, June.
    22. Rudy Douven & Ron van der Heijden & Thomas McGuire & Erik Schut, 2017. "Premium levels and demand response in health insurance: relative thinking and zero-price effects," CPB Discussion Paper 366.rdf, CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis.
    23. Lorenzo Casaburi & Jack Willis, 2018. "Time versus State in Insurance: Experimental Evidence from Contract Farming in Kenya," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 108(12), pages 3778-3813, December.
    24. Andersson, Ola & Ingebretsen Carlson, Jim & Wengström, Erik, 2016. "Differences Attract: An Experimental Study of Focusing in Economic Choice," Working Papers 2016:15, Lund University, Department of Economics.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D10 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - General
    • M30 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Marketing and Advertising - - - General
    • L10 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - General
    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • A12 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Other Disciplines

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