Detecting and Reacting to Change: The Effect of Exposure to Narrow Categorizations

Amitav Chakravarti, Christina Fang, and Zur Shapira

The ability to detect a change, to accurately assess the magnitude of the change, and to react to that change in a commensurate fashion are of critical importance in many decision domains. Thus, it is important to understand the factors that systematically affect people's reactions to change. In this article we document a novel effect: Decision makers' reactions to a change (e.g., a visual change, a technology change) were systematically affected by the type of categorizations they encountered in an unrelated prior task (e.g., the response categories associated with a survey question). We found that prior exposure to narrow, as opposed to broad, categorizations improved decision makers' ability to detect change and led to stronger reactions to a given change. These differential reactions occurred because the prior categorizations, even though unrelated, altered the extent to which the subsequently presented change was perceived as either a relatively large change or a relatively small one.

August, 2011
Published in: 
Journal of Experimental Psychology Learning, Memory, and Cognition