From gigahertz to bogomips, dot pitch to DPI, it’s hard to exist in the electronics age without getting bombarded by figures that are supposed to help you understand what, precisely, you’re getting for your money.

But really, how many of us understand the implications of a few extra megahertz in the memory interface on a graphics card? A study released by the Journal of Consumer Research suggests it doesn’t really matter: everyone just wants bigger numbers.

As the researchers found, it doesn’t even matter if those numbers don’t line up with personal experience, or even if they’re completely made up.

The research was focused on the gap between how we perceive an item based on experience, and how we view the item based on what we know about it.

For example, we can have experience using a digital camera, and think it takes great pictures; in marketing jargon, this is termed a “hedonic preference,” which the authors parenthetically defined as “liking.”

The first test involved megapixels. The authors took a single image, and used Photoshop to create a sharper version, and one with more vivid colors; they told the students that the two versions came from different cameras. When told nothing about the cameras, about 25 percent of the students chose the one that had made the sharper image.

The paper wraps up with advice for both marketers and consumers. For marketers, the message was simple: if your product doesn’t already have some numeric measure associated with it, try to find one and popularize it.

For consumers, the authors suggest that the only real solution is to try to put numbers out of their heads, and get hands-on time with the product before making a choice.

Photo by surely.

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