Mental Accounting in Decision-Making for Self Versus Others

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Previous studies have commonly used the third-person format to explore the generality of mental accounting and have observed the mental accounting effect when people predict others’ behavior. However, little is known about whether the mental accounting effect can be observed when people make decisions for others. We conducted 2 studies to investigate this issue. In Study 1, participants were asked to read all A or B scenarios for 3 modified mental accounting problems (the movie ticket problem, the sneaker and umbrella problem, and the basketball game problem) and to make decisions for themselves or for others. The results showed that the mental accounting effect appeared only when the participants made decisions for themselves and not when they made decisions for others. In Study 2, we directly manipulated the self–other intimate relationship (close other vs. distant other) and asked the participants to make decisions for different others in the 3 modified problems. The results showed that regardless of whether the other was socially close or distant, the mental accounting effect was not observed. Taken together, our results extend the findings on mental accounting and indicate that it may cease to apply when individuals make decisions for others.

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