Do costly options lead to better outcomes? How the protestant work ethic influences the cost-benefit heuristic in goal pursuit

Yimin Cheng, Anirban Mukhopadhyay, Rom Y. Schrift

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


People often assume that costlier means lead to better outcomes, even in the absence of an objective relationship in the specific context. Such cost-benefit heuristics in goal pursuit have been observed across several domains, but their antecedents have not been fully explored. In this research, the authors propose that a person's tendency to use cost-benefit heuristics depends on the extent to which that person subscribes to the Protestant Work Ethic (PWE), an influential concept originally introduced to explain the rise of capitalism. The PWE is a core value predicated on the work-specific belief that hard work leads to success, but people who subscribe strongly to it tend to over generalize and align other work-unrelated cognitions for consistency. Across ten studies (N = 1,917) measuring and manipulating PWE, robust findings show that people who are high (vs. low) in PWE are more likely to use cost-benefit heuristics and are more likely to choose costlier means in pursuit of superior outcomes. Suggestions are provided for how marketers may identify consumers high versus low in PWE and tailor their offerings, accordingly.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)636-649
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Marketing Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 8 Aug 2017


  • Core belief
  • Cost-benefit heuristics
  • Lay theories
  • Price-quality relationship
  • Protestant work ethic

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