The Differential Impact of Abstract vs. Concrete Information on Decisions1


  • 1

    This research was supported by NIMH Social Psychology Traineeship No. 2-TO1-MH 11470–46 to the first author and by National Science Foundation Grant GS 40085 to the second author. The authors acknowledge the helpful comments of Hazel Markus, Harvey Reed, Lee Ross, and Amos Tversky.


Recent findings from research on judgment and attribution processes indicate that people regard base rate data, i.e., statistical summaries of populations, as if they were uninformative. It is suggested that base rate information lacks impact because of its abstract, pallid nature. In a demonstration of the inefficacy of abstract information, undergraduates were given mean course evaluations based on ratings of students who previously took the courses. This information had little impact on course choices. In contrast, brief, face-to-face comments about the courses had a substantial impact on course choices. The results suggest that information is utilized in proportion to its vividness.