Can Irrelevant Quantity Information Influence Judgments of Productivity?

 Imagine that you are working at your desk and you have a pile of papers and
books on your desk.  You glance at this pile and think to yourself that you have
been quite productive today.  Your judgment is based on the size of the pile on
your desk.  While this approach to judging productivity could be a valid indicator
of productivity in some situations, it may often not be.
  In their first experiment, Josephs, Giesler, and Silvera (1994) had participants
complete a task in which they had to put a slash mark through every letter c that
they saw in paragraphs.  All participants were stopped after completing five
paragraphs.  Participants put their completed work in an outbox.  In one
condition, pages were attached to journals (journal condition).  In the other
condition, the pages were not attached to journals (page condition).  On the
average, participants in the journal condition rated their own productivity as
higher than participants in the page condition. (1)  
  Their first study demonstated that an irrelvant quanity factor (pile size in an
outbox) could influence judgments of their own productivity.  In their fifth
experiment, Josephs et al. (1994) demonstrated that this irrelevant quanity factor
(pile size in an outbox) influence judgments of their own productivity
only when
it was in full view when they made their productivity judgments.  
  There are important practical implications.  When judging our own productivity
at work it may be best to make these judgments when an irrelevant quanity
factor (e.g., pile size in an outbox) is not in our view.        
  Irrelevant quantity information may influence the judgments of writers and
publishers.  Writers may write books that are longer than they need to be.  They
may add unnecessary words to make the books longer.  This could result in too
much paper being used and readers being unhappy with the time and effort it
takes to read something.  Moreover, publishers may reject worthy books because
they do not contain enough words.


1.  See their article for other findings.


Josephs, R. A., Giesler, R. B., & Silvera, D. H.  (1994).  Judgment by Quantity.
Jourmal of Experimental Psychology: General, 123, 21-32.