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100 Things You Should Know About People: #10 — You Want More Choices and Information Than You Can Actually Process




If you stand in any aisle in any retail store in the USA you will be inundated with choices. Whether you are buying candy, cereal, TVs, jeans, you name it, you will likely have a huge number of items to choose from. This is because people want lots of choices. If you ask someone whether they would like to choose from a few alternatives or have lots of choices, most people will say that they want lots of choices.

Too Many Choices and We Freeze — In my book, Neuro Web Design, What makes them click? I talk about the classic research in the field of choice. Iyengar and Lepper (2000) decided to test out the theory that if you have too many choices you don’t choose at all. They  set up booths at a busy upscale grocery store  and posed as store employees. They alternated the selection on the table. Half of the time there were six choices of fruit jam for people to try and the other half of the time there were twenty-four jars of jam.

Which Table Had More Visitors? — When there were twenty-four jars of jam, 60% of the people coming by would stop and taste. When there were six jars of jam only 40% of the people would stop and taste. So having more choices was better, right? Nope, that’s wrong.

Which Table Resulted in More Tasting? You would think that people would taste more jam when the table had twenty-four different varieties. But they didn’t. People tasted only a few varieties whether there were six or twenty-four choices available. People can only deal with 3 to 4 things at one time (see the post on 100 Things You Should Know about People: #3 — You Can Only Remember 3 to 4 Things At A Time (The Magic Number 3 or 4)).

Which Table Resulted in More Purchases? 31% of the people who stopped at the table with six jars actually made a purchase. But only 3% of the people who stopped at the table with twenty-four jars actually made a purchase. So even though more people stopped by, less people purchased. To give you an example of the numbers, if 100 people came by (they actually had more than that in the study, but 100 makes the calculations easy for our purposes), 60 of them would stop and try the jam at the twenty four jar table, but only two of them would make a purchase. Forty people would stop and try the jam at the six-jar table, and twelve of them would actually make a purchase.

Why Can’t You Stop? — So if “less is more” then why are you always wanting more choices? It’s part of that dopamine effect again. We find information addictive. It is only when we are confident of our decision that we stop seeking more information.  (see the post on 100 Things You Should Know About People: #8 — Dopamine Makes You Addicted To Seeking Information)

What should you do if you are trying to sell something? —  Resist the impulse to provide lots and lots of choices to your customers. Remember they will SAY they want lots of choices, and you will think that lots of choices is a good thing (because you like them too), but too many choices means they won’t buy at all.

What should you do if you are the consumer? —  Stay aware of when you have gone over 3 to 4 choices or 3 to 4 points of information. Start some new habits by making “rules” for yourself. For example, make a rule, that when you have 4 pieces of information or 4 choices lined up that you will either stop seeking more information and make your decision/choice, or at least take a break from your searching so you can break the dopamine loop. It takes a while to replace an old habit with a new one, so you may have to be patient. And I’ll tell you the truth… I think that the dopamine reaction is so strong you may not be able to ever really stop this information seeking/choice seeking loop. But you can always try!

And for those of you who like research:

Iyengar, Sheena S. and Mark R. Lepper. 2000. When choice is demotivating: Can one desire too much of a good thing?. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 79: 995-1006.


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5 responses to “100 Things You Should Know About People: #10 — You Want More Choices and Information Than You Can Actually Process”

  1. Ata Avatar

    Nowadays, when you visit your local supermarket, the choices of many different foods is just so overwhelming that when you actually made a choice on one product (after spending some time deciding) you end up putting it back after finding something slightly better.

    The same can be said about clothing and what not!
    .-= Ata´s last blog ..Accelerate Your Degree With Online College Programs! =-.

  2. 47: The Desire For Control And Choice Is Built In « Twisted Psychology

    […] work for a while. She’s the author of the famous “jam study”, that I talked about in a previous blog. (I’ll do a book review of the new book in a future post). Early in the book she talks about some […]

  3. Jessica Avatar

    Awesome! We have done a similar experiment when I was working for a Retail company. Lot of people passed quickly through shelves that had lots of options and the reason they provided was that it was confusing on what to choose. 3-4 things gain attention and makes us easy to choose one.

  4. […] #20/#03 People remember only four items at once #28/#60 Some types of mental processing are more challenging than others #53/#08 Unpredictability keeps people searching #92/#10 People want more choices and information than they can process […]

  5. Mike C Smith Avatar

    You are right about choices, it’s not something I thought of before, but your common sense article clearly shows, that more is not necessary correct. I placed myself in that position and realised the value of not drowning my site in products, but to keep simple.
    Thank you for the good advice.

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