Dalton Conley: A rating method for improved accuracy of customer evaluations

Oct. 6, 2020

A virtual rating method for online user reviews promises to improve the accuracy of customer evaluations in e-commerce, workforce review and business development.

The method improves customer ratings by imposing small costs, such as more time spent, on the person giving the review. Classic economic theory suggests that minimizing cost would yield the best results, but studies by Dalton Conley and colleagues show the opposite. The researchers found that free online ratings, such as those that ask customers to give one to five stars, are less trustworthy than those that have some cost to giving extreme ratings at either end of the scale. In other words, when the reviewer finds it hard to give a one-star or a fivestar
rating, the quality of the information obtained improves dramatically.

This finding conforms to everyday experience. When something has a cost in time, money or energy, we find it to be more valuable. In ecological terms, this is known as “costly signaling theory,” which states that costly activities signal higher quality. For example, a peacock’s richly colored tail signals a valuable choice of a mate.

To impose a cost on extreme ratings, Conley and Ofer Tchernichovski, a professor of psychology at Hunter College, built a virtual rating method that imposes costs through interactive “physics,” including an intuitive sliding scale with friction. The additional effort required to give extreme scores improves the accuracy of ratings while reducing the sample size needed to detect true trends.

"Simply put: Making rating goods or services as easy as possible, as many e-commerce sites try to do, is counterproductive. Ratings are more accurate instead when they cost something to give.” – Dalton Conley

Innovator: Dalton Conley, the Henry Putnam University Professor in Sociology

Co-inventor: Ofer Tchernichovski, Professor of Psychology, Hunter College, City University
of New York

Development status: Patent protection is pending. Princeton is seeking outside interest for the development of this technology.

Learn more:

For licensing enquiries, contact Laurie Tzodikov, Assistant Director, Office of Technology Licensing.

Person giving a rating on a phone

Image by Adobe Stock Image