Input Bias: When
Research | You step into a room with a handful of other subjects and are informed you will be watching two presentations on the heart-tingling subjects of electronic ink and optical switches. The first, the researchers explain, took over eight and a half hours to prepare; the second, a disappointing 37 minutes. Afterward you are asked to judge the quality of the presentations.
Chances are, you rated the first presentation better than the second, and its not because you have a fondness for electronic ink; its simply because you were told that it took longer to prepare: A second group of subjects was told the exact opposite about the preparation times and again gave higher ratings to the longer prep-time. Whats worse: both groups told the researchers that such information shouldnt matter when judging the quality of the presentation. But it did.
Think about this the next time your boss asks you to take on a project.
The attempt to look busy at work (even when youre playing Space Invaders or bidding for items on e-Bay while you should be writing an invoice report, networking clients, or pumping out project proposals) is not just fodder for a Dilbert comic-strip joke. Dr. Maurice Schweitzer G91 GrW93, assistant professor of operations and information management at Wharton, calls it an attempt to invoke the input bias. According to Schweitzer, the amount of time or money put into something influences the way people perceive its quality.
Schweitzer, along with Karen Chinander of Florida Atlantic University, published their findings on input bias in the July 2003 issue of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. What they found was a direct correlation between peoples perception of input quantity ˝time, money, manpower˝ and their perception of output quality when comparing two items of the same caliber.
Theres this great billboard for Lexus that says something like, 35,000 people took vacations in the south of France last year; none of them was a Lexus engineer, Schweitzer says. I dont really care that they went on vacation. Is it a good car? Thats what I care about. People can misperceive what these inputs are [measuring].
Schweitzer warns that managers should watch for workers who misrepresent their work through inflated inputs. When managers are judging others˝for example, trying to decide on who deserves a promotion˝they should shield themselves from the input measures. On the other hand, employees and managers alike need to recognize that people are going to judge you based in part on how hard they think youre working, or how much time youve spent on something. You have to manage those impressions.
When asked about the role of input bias in product marketing, Schweitzer is quick to reply, I would like to promote it ethically, but in some cases you dont want to make things look so easy. People care about the effort and the inputs and the amount of money you spend. The perception of those things impacts the way people judge [the outcome].
Schweitzer, who is in the process of publishing a paper on emotions and trust judgments, got into the field of social psychology while working on his Ph.D. at Wharton in the OPIM department, which combines operations management and decision processes. Its a fascinating field in that we are just starting to understand how our judgment works, he says. We have adapted over the last hundred thousand years to do some things well, but still we have room to grow. Those limitations are becoming more apparent because we have computers, he says. We interact with more technology, we interact with more strangers, and we have to make rather rapid and sometimes important judgments about a lot of things.
Its clear he enjoys his work including the opportunity to play mischievous tricks on his subjects. One test for the input bias involved giving people different types of tea to taste and telling them that one was brewed with more expensive machinery than the other was. High-quality teas were consistently judged by their input values (in the same way the presentations were), but some samples, spiked with salt and lime juice, were intentionally foul to check whether people think something expensive is good, even when it is nasty. It turns out they dont.
We said, We need to make this tea really bad. It was really horrible, but it wasnt as bad as when we first started off with even more salt, Schweitzer recalls. My assistant came back and he said, You know this tea is really terrible. I said, Great! He said, No, we cant use this. Somebody spit it back at me.Patrick Brugh C05
2004 The Pennsylvania Gazette
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