Friday, December 20, 2013

The Science of Rankings: Practical Lessons

In the Journal of Consumer Research, Matthew S. Isaac and Robert M. Schindler have published their article, The Top-Ten Effect: Consumers’ Subjective Categorization of Ranked Lists. Here are some highlights offered by

[R]esearchers find we have a tendency to mentally group things in fives and 10s, and ultimately perceive exaggerated disparity between numbers ending in zeros or fives and the numbers that immediately follow. For example, Christmas toys ranked 11th and 13th on a list would have a smaller perceived gap in importance than those ranked 10th and 11th.

They call it the “Top 10 Effect,” and it has vast implications for universities, brands, businesses, and pretty much anything else subject to media lists — which, this time of year, are harder to avoid than a headache in a mall parking lot.

“This study tells us that if you’re at 15 and it’s going to take a lot of work to get into the Top 10, you may not want to make that investment. But if you’re at 11, it may really be worth it because that one spot could make a huge difference in the minds of consumers.”

In one [study], for instance, investigators looked at data from 484,922 takers of a business school admissions exam over a three-year period, which included the names of schools to which the students wished to apply. These were then compared with U.S. News & World Report’s annual ranking of business schools in each of those years.

Notably, if a school’s ranking passed a boundary — say, improving from 12 to 10 or from 26 to 24 — that shift was the best predictor of an increase in the number of applications the institution received.

The implications for law school rankings are obvious.


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