Dr. Günter Molz
Lecturer for Methodology, Personality Research and Cognitive Psychology
Wuppertal University, Germany.
Suggestibility regarding the biased estimations of Euro coins from alleged different countries was examined. It was predicted that images regarding different nations would affect these estimations. In an experimental between-subjects design, 160 German participants had to rate the size of the image of a Euro coin. Across all conditions it was the same image, but the background information about the coin’s origin was different: Participants were told that this coin was Dutch, French, German or Portuguese.
Significant differences for the resulting estimates were identified across experimental conditions and in regard to participants’ age. The alleged Portuguese coin was rated to be relatively small; older participants estimated this coin to be smaller than younger participants did. For the supposed German coin, this correlation was reversed. Implications for future research are discussed.
Keywords: cultural biases, Euro, Euro marketing, image, judgements, non-reactive-measurement
The introduction of the Euro released both hope and fear. On January 1st, 1999, the Euro became the official currency in most states of the European Community (EC). For the majority of the population however, this expressed itself only in fixed exchange rates between the participating currencies, since cash money was not changed immediately. Broad public discussions started a few months before the introduction of the new cash money in twelve European country on January, 1st, 2002. The next countries introducing the Euro will be Malta and Cyprus on January, 1st, 2008.
In Germany, the pessimistic attitude was predominant to more optimistic outlooks (Müller-Peters, Pepermans, Kiell, Battaglia, Beckmann, Burgoyne, et al., 1998). Many Germans doubted that the Euro was going to have the same stability, i.e. low inflation rate, as the old currency, the “German Mark”. As a result of the launch, a slackening of the German Economy down to the level of weaker economies in Southern Europe was feared. These expectations have been assessed by numerous researchers (e.g. Müller-Peters et al.). Additionally, biased evaluations for a country would have an impact on the marketing of that country’s products in Germany. Even though that country has the same currency, its products would not be perceived as being from the same or home market. However, measuring the attitude concerning countries joining the Euro by direct interviews or questionnaires with explicit verbal responses bears the risk of prompting responses driven by social desirability. For this reason the social psychological phenomenon of social accentuation was referred to in this study.
The estimation of physical dimensions is frequently influenced by variables with a social meaning. For example, Bruner and Goodman (1947) found that the perceived diameter of cash coins (physical dimensions) is influenced by the subjectively perceived value: Poor children, usually associating coins with a relatively high purchase value, estimated coins to be larger than rich children. Though this study never has been convincingly replicated, it triggered much work on the phenomenon that the estimation of physical stimuli with a relevant social meaning is biased (e.g. Bruner and Postman, 1948). This paradigm has not only been applied to physical dimensions (like length or size), but also to other aspects, such as ethnic features of faces (Corneille, Huart, Becquart, and Bredart, 2004), or national stereotypes as correlations between trait dimensions and national affiliations (Diehl and Jonas, 1991; Tajfel, 1959). Regarding recent theoretical frame work these studies as well as the present one are a matter of affective priming (Musch and Klauer, 2003; Strack and Deutsch, 2004). Thereafter information like ethnic or national background can be suggestive and has an impact on intuitive perception and judgement.
Suggestibility and social accentuation
The construct of suggestibility refers to affective priming applied in different contexts (e.g. Pohl, 2004), such as interrogations (e.g. Ceci, Crossman, Gilstrap, and Scullin (1998); Loftus (1997), Gudjonsson (2003), perception (e.g. Gheorghiu, Koch, Fialkowski, Pieper, and Molz (2001) or product evaluations based on price tags (e.g. Molz and Gielnik, 2006). Regardless of whether authors use the term “affective priming” or the term “suggestibility”, in both cases it is suggested that behaviour, emotions, thoughts or judgement are adopted on non-reflective or non-voluntary basis. The latter feature of suggestibility made it possible to assess participants’ evaluations not biased by reflections with regard to social desirability or political correctness. Therefore the methodological approach is in the tradition of non-reactive measurement which has been used e.g. by Forgas (1976) to study national stereotypes in four European countries.
According to social accentuation theory, the image of a country should bias estimations of objects’ physical dimensions. In this study participants had to assess coins’ diameters and the overall subjective evaluations of a country. These evaluations would not necessarily bias the diameters’ estimations. But the country’s attractiveness according to its economy would probably bias the ratings of the coins’ sizes. This hypothesis seems plausible because of earlier findings: Molz and Hopf (2002) showed that right before the introduction of Euro cash money in Germany (December 2001) diameters of Euro coins were relatively underestimated whereas German Mark coins were relatively overestimated. In this period the image of the Euro was quite low, because many people feared that a loss of the German Mark would mean a loss of economic power (e.g. Traut-Mattausch, Jonas, Frey and Greitemeyer, 2005). Using a statistical metaphor like Tajfel (1959), we predicted a correlation between the estimated physical coin size and the perceived economic strength of its country of origin.
In order to test this claim we selected The Netherlands, being considered a country with a strong economy in the E.C. at the time the study was conducted (January 2003). Portugal, on the other hand had a more negative image.
Therefore the following hypothesis was put forward:
The estimations for the alleged Portuguese coin’s` diameter are smaller than those for the alleged Dutch coin.
For exploratory reasons it was decided to measure estimations of coins from Germany and France, which are (according to the population size) the two biggest countries in the EC. In order to identify particular facets which are accountable for biased diameter estimations, all four countries were assessed by means of a semantic differential consisting of fourteen bipolar dimensions measured on seven-point-scales.
Data were collected by means of a questionnaire. First, an introductory text about any of the four countries was given. Afterwards – on the following page – four simple questions were asked concerning the information in the introductory text. As for fifty percent of the questionnaires, participants were asked to give their assessment of this country by means of the fourteen bipolar adjective scales of the semantic differential. Later the estimations of the coins’ diameters were obtained as follows (compare figure 1).
A black and white jpeg-image of a 1 Euro-coin was presented. This image showed the coin’s front side, which is the same for all countries participating in the Euro. Beneath the coin-image was a claim stating that this was a Dutch / French / German respective Portuguese 1-Euro coin. It was decided to present the non-country specific front side of the coins to ensure intern validity. If the country-specific back-side of the coin had been presented and if there were substantial differences of size estimations, these effects might have been attributed to the different nation specific symbols that might appear to be relatively big or small. It was the participants’ task to estimate the coin size as presented in the picture. In the picture the coin was slightly oversized. This was done because some persons might have known the actual size of the coins and simply might have reproduced this knowledge. In order to limit the variance of possible answers, 24 tick boxes were provided, each one representing an estimation between 12 and 35 millimetres. To allow control of possible sequential effects in the other fifty percent of the questionnaires the task to guess the coin’s diameter was presented first and the fourteen polarities scale was presented afterwards. This resulted in a 2×4-design (see Table 1): The first factor refers to the design variation ’diameter estimation before adjective polarities versus diameter estimation after adjective polarities’, the second factor reflects the experimental independent variable with the four countries involved.
Each condition was administered to twenty participants. Since this was a complete between-subjects-design the size of the sample was N = 160. 93 participants were female, 67 were male; the age ranged from 14 to 74 years. The questionnaires were distributed by chance in public by eight students. Each student distributed only one of the eight possible conditions. This was done in order to avoid any suggestive hypothesis-confirming influence, which might have been exerted if the same student had distributed questionnaires e.g. with the Dutch coin as well as with the Portuguese one.
ANOVA analysis of variance showed no effect for the potential sequence effect regarding whether the bipolar adjective scale or the diameter estimation was applied first [F(1, 158) = 4,23, p =0.,67]. Therefore in the following statistics this variation in sequence is omitted.
Table 2 shows the descriptive statistics of the diameter estimations. The average estimations for the french coin are the biggest, next are assessments for the Dutch coin followed by judgements for the German coin. The estimations for the Portuguese coin were the smallest ones. The hypothesized difference between estimations for the Dutch and Portuguese coins were significant. The other exploratory five t-tests failed to reach a two-sided significance, except the comparison between the French and the Portuguese coin (Table 3).
Principal component analysis with a subsequent Varimax-rotation was performed on basis of the fourteen bipolar adjective scales. The so-called EPA-structure (Evaluation, Potency, and Activity) could not be identified. Secondly, the same analysis was performed including the diameter estimations as a fifteenth variable. The results are presented in Table 4. It is striking that the variable diameter estimation is the only one out of fifteen variables having a substantial factorload with only one of the five components (r = 0,789).
Finally, another unexpected result was identified (cp. Table 2). The overall correlation between the participants’ ages and size of diameter estimation is close to zero. The same is true for the age variable and the estimations for the Dutch and French coin. In case of the German coin this correlation is moderately positive, i.e. the older the participants were, the higher the probability was that they assessed the coin’s diameter to be relatively big. For the Portuguese coin this correlation was moderately negative, i.e. the older the participants were, the higher was the probability that they assessed the coin’s diameter to be relatively small. According to z-statistics, the difference between these two different signed correlations is highly significant (z = 2,99; p = .001).
The hypothesis that the Dutch coin’s` diameter is estimated to be bigger was supported, but one has to concede that the underlying reasoning for establishing this hypothesis has to be questioned: Thereafter the economic strength of a country should be decisive for the over- respective underestimation of a coin’s size. The fact that the economic data of France, which were given to the participants, even exceeded the data for the Netherlands seems to support this hypothesis. But principal component analysis revealed that the variable diameter estimation and the bipolarity ‘strong – weak’ do not have their highest loads on the same components; additionally their bivariate intercorrelation is only –0.102. These findings question the idea that economic strength of a country is the decisive variable for differences in coins’ size judgements in general. Maybe this is a reasonable explanation regarding a subsample of our four coins or our 160 participants. The results concerning the age effect regarding the German and the Portuguese coin suggest that a differential psychological perspective is appropriate. Here, age specific positive stereotypes about one’s own country (Germany) as well as negative prejudices about a small and in recent decades underdeveloped country (Portugal) obviously were decisive. This explanation is supported by an analysis of the bipolar adjective dimensions. Poles reflecting negative evaluations (e.g. ugly, bad) were preferred by younger participants in the case of Germany. Contrarily, elderly subjects judged Germany to be relatively positive and Portugal to be relatively negative. This suggests that future marketing related research on this topic has to consider interindividual differences as well as country specific effects.
Which conclusions can be drawn from these results for the introduction of the Euro in Malta and in Cyprus? These conclusions have an effect on economic as well as on more general issues. As for the economic aspects positive or negative evaluations of a nation are not limited to biased estimations of coins’ sizes. They should also affect evaluations of products from different nations. The resulting biases are likely to have an effect on purchase decision. Of course this hypothesis must be proved with data that have direct relations to purchase decisions.
Regarding more general aspects it is notable that the fast and complete exchange of cash money provides a unique laboratory setting for research. In everyday-life people have to adapt to new cash money. If these people are suggested to associate with these new coins e.g. some beliefs about the coin’s country of origin they are likely to do so. The longer they are familiar with these coins the weaker are the effects of these associations. We replicated this experiment two years later (January 2005, three years after the introduction of the Euro). The effects reported above were still there but much smaller. Hopefully this paper is stimulation enough for delineating some ideas for social research associated with the introduction of the Euro in Malta and other future Euro countries.
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Dr. Günter Molz is currently a Lecturer for Methodology, Personality Research and Cognitive Psychology at Wuppertal University, Germany. His main research topics address the influence of personal presumptions (like expectancies, subjective probabilities and hypotheses) on human judgement and behaviour. He has conducted both basic and applied research on this field.