Heaping at Round Numbers on Financial Questions: The Role of Satisficing


  • Michael Gideon U.S. Census Bureau
  • Joanne Hsu Federal Reserve Board
  • Brooke Helppie-McFall University of Michigan




financial survey, satisficing, rounding, heaping, survey response


Survey responses to quantitative financial questions frequently display strong patterns of heaping at round numbers. This paper uses two studies to examine variation in rounding across questions and by individual characteristics. Rounding was more common for respondents low in ability, for respondents low in motivation, and for more difficult questions, all consistent with theories of satisficing. Questions that require more difficult information retrieval and integration of information exhibit more heaping. The use of records, which lowers task difficulty, reduces rounding as well. Higher episodic memory is associated with less rounding, and standard measures of motivation are negatively associated with rounding. These relationships, along with the fact that longer response latencies are associated with less rounding, all support the idea that rounding is a manifestation of satisficing on open-ended financial questions. Rounding patterns also appear remarkably similar across the two studies, despite being fielded in different modes and employing different question order and wording.

Author Biography

Michael Gideon, U.S. Census Bureau

Economist Social, Economic, and Housing Statistics Division




How to Cite

Gideon, M., Hsu, J., & Helppie-McFall, B. (2017). Heaping at Round Numbers on Financial Questions: The Role of Satisficing. Survey Research Methods, 11(2), 189–214. https://doi.org/10.18148/srm/2017.v11i2.6782




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