Yet another weird SF fan

I'm a mathematician, a libertarian, and a science-fiction fan. Common sense? What's that?

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Yet another weird SF fan

Sunday, January 09, 2005


Barry Schwarz appears to think that too much consumer choice is a bad thing:

Psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper have shown that as the number of flavors of jam or varieties of chocolate available to shoppers is increased, the likelihood that they will leave the store without buying any jam goes up.

When we look at a a more detailed report, we see:

In one of the studies reported in the journal, a group of subjects were asked to choose which type of chocolate they would buy from a selection of 6 Godiva flavors. Another group was asked to choose on variety from among 30 different flavors.

Subjects who were given extensive choices found the chocolates they had selected less tasty, less enjoyable and less satisfying than did the subjects given limited choices. They had more regrets about their choices and they were less likely to choose chocolates as compensation for taking part in the study than were subjects whose field of choice was restricted.

In another study, the researchers set up a "tasting booth" at Draeger's Supermarket in Menlo Park, Calif., an upscale grocery store known for its wide selection of foods. (On a normal day, Dr. Iyengar and Dr. Lepper report, Draeger's features "roughly 250 different varieties of mustard, 75 different varieties of olive oil and over 300 varieties of jam.")

When shoppers approached the booth, some found a selection of 6 types of jam to taste; others encountered a choice of 24 different jams.

The wider selection, Dr. Lepper and Dr. Iyengar found, attracted more shoppers: of 242 customers who passed by, 60 percent stopped at the tasting booth, compared with only 40 percent of the 260 customers who passed the more limited display.

But while nearly 30 percent of the shoppers given 6 choices subsequently bought a jar of jam, only 3 percent of those offered 24 varieties made a purchase.

In other words, we're dealing with unprepared subjects who were probably not thinking “how will I make a choice of a free sample?” Under normal shopping conditions, consumers have some idea of what they want ahead of time and, if they don't already know exactly what brand they'll get, they will pick the closest match. Such a match is likely to be closer when there are more choices.

We can consider the consequences of the theory that “fewer choices are better” in other fields. People nowadays have a very wide variety of choices when it comes to selecting a spouse. Should that be restricted? For that matter, why do we have so many newpapers or magazines? It's far more cost effective to shut down The New Republic or The New York Times.


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