Coarse Thinking and Persuasion

Sendhil Mullainathan
Harvard University – Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Joshua Schwartzstein
Harvard University – Department of Economics

Andrei Shleifer
Harvard University – Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)

December 2006

NBER Working Paper No. w12720

Abstract:

We present a model of coarse thinking, in which individuals group situations into categories, and transfer the informational content of a given message from situations in a category where it is useful to those where it is not. The model explains how uninformative messages can be persuasive, particularly in low involvement situations, and how objectively informative messages can be dropped by the persuader without the audience assuming the worst. The model sheds light on product branding, the structure of product attributes, and several puzzling aspects of mutual fund advertising.

Coarse Thinking and Persuasion

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