Graduation Year

Spring 2012

Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

Psychology

Reader 1

Gabriel I. Cook

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© 2012 Lauren E. Yeske

Abstract

Mental accounting is a technique for asserting self-control in the face of consumption decisions, functioning as a categorization system for income and expenses. A body of evidence supports the concept that consumers are driven by perception and emotion, not rational economic thought. Mental accounting is subject to the effects of cognitive biases, leading to imperfect financial behavior. In the following paper, I present a proposal for three consecutive experiments designed to investigate the influence that advanced planning (the formation of mental budgets) and unexpected financial shocks (windfalls) can have on our use of mental accounting to regulate spending. The dependent variable is a dollar measure of how much consumers indicated they are “willing to pay” (WTP) to hypothetically purchase a typical good. The experiments share an intertemporal manipulation of a monthly budget creation task. Experiment one investigates the combined effects of positive and negative windfalls and budget creation on WTP. Experiment 2 explores boundary conditions of timing on loss aversion by manipulating the length of the time period that separates a negative windfall from the WTP task. Experiment 3 focuses on one time period, manipulating wording of a negative financial shock to focus on framing effects. The three experiments, if carried out, should reveal significant effects on WTP, suggesting that manipulations of framing and timing can lead to inconsistent spending behaviors even in the presence of a self-control tool (the mental budget).

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