Posted on June 20, 2016 by Joanna Carver

How important are the numbers that surround us every day such as sales pricing, brand names or product attributes? And, do these numbers impact how we make purchasing decisions and conduct negotiations?


numbers graphic with multiple colorsAccording to recent research by UTSA marketing faculty member Dengfeng Yan, numbers play a vital role in consumer behavior.

“From a managerial perspective, numbers are pervasive in marketing or everyday contexts,” said Yan, assistant professor of marketing. “Previous research has typically focused on the function of numbers as conveying quantitative magnitude. In contrast, my work suggests that numbers can also communicate other psychological meanings as well.”

In his article “Numbers are Gendered: The Role of Numerical Precision,” Yan conducted seven studies to determine whether numbers can be thought of as feminine or masculine. The article has been accepted in the Journal of Consumer Research.

“The intuition is that people tend to associate numerical precision with masculine concepts,” said Yan. “There might be several reasons why this is the case. For example, past research has shown that precise numbers signal confidence and aggression, which are connected with masculinity. In contrast, round numbers are associated with greater flexibility and accommodation, which are more connected with femininity.”

To test this idea, in one study individuals were shown a picture of a baby as part of a gender-neutral birth announcement. When the descriptions such as measurements were more precise the baby was more often perceived as male.

“Thus, it’s better for marketers to communicate masculine attributes using precise numbers. The underlying reason is that exposure to precise numbers may make masculine concepts more accessible in a consumer’s mind, which in turn facilitates the processing of materials that have masculine connotations.”

Yan’s second research study, which was co-authored with UTSA marketing doctoral student Jorge Pena Marin, looked at how numerical precision influences negotiators’ decisions throughout the bargaining process.

In their paper “Round Off the Bargaining: The Effects of Offer Roundness on Willingness to Accept,” the UTSA researchers built upon previous research that found round numbers symbolize completion and goal achievement.

Results from their five studies found that negotiators were more willing to accept round offers ($24,000) than comparable precise offers ($24,195). However, if they counter, participants in the precise condition counter less than those in the round condition.

“When setting list prices, it’s better to use precise numbers because precision signals expertise and confidence,” said Yan. “As a result, the offer recipient will counter less. As the negotiation is underway, we suggest that it’s beneficial to make a round offer because it cues completion. Since bargaining is not a pleasant process, closing the deal sooner might be desired.”

Based on their findings, numerical roundness can be identified as another determinant of psychological closure.

Yan, who has taught at UTSA since 2012, has focused his research in the areas of numerical information processing and psychological distance. His work has appeared in the Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Consumer Psychology and the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Wendy Frost—

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— Joanna Carver