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A self-serving bias drives people to overestimate the usefulness of objects to others

A new article from GSEM Professor Ignazio Ziano and Daniel Villanova (University of Arkansas) proposes that since many people consider materialism a negative, they are likely to believe other people to be more materialistic than themselves, and thus estimate that others will need, or find the same objects more useful than they do. This overestimation of usefulness has implications for social behavior and decision-making. In addition, the study contributes to the understanding of self-other biases and the social aspects of willingness to pay. These results may have implications on how negotiations, pricing, and interpersonal decisions about objects are made. The study is published in the top-tier Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.



People routinely evaluate how useful objects are to themselves and to others. Seventeen experiments (with U.S. American and French participants, total N = 8016) show that people believe others find the same objects more useful than they themselves do. Using both mediation analysis and causal chain designs, the authors show that overestimating usefulness to others is caused by a self-serving bias in perceived materialism and by the belief that others need the same object more. The effect is reduced if participants own the object in question, for target others who are well-known, and for objects considered less indicative of materialistic values. The effect also drives overestimation of others' willingness-to-pay. The authors find evidence against alternative explanations involving perceived sophistication or specifically thinking of object users. The authors discuss theoretical implications for self-other biases and materialism, as well as practical implications for proxy decision-making, gift-giving, and negotiation.

The study is available open access: More useful to you: Believing that others find the same objects more useful

> Click here to view the GSEM faculty’s publications in top-tier journals.


August 31, 2023
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