social sciences

Are you a maximizer or a satisficer?

Those of you who happened to be a part of the research I conducted for my bachelor thesis, might have filled in a survey related to maximizing. This was one of the important constructs for the hypotheses I came up with. But what exactly is maximizing and what are its implications? Maximizing is the tendency of going for the best option out there. This means that you will keep looking for newer and better options, despite having already found something that is “just good enough”. Whereas someone else might adopt a satisficing strategy, using this method, you will stop looking after having found a good enough option (Misuraca & Teuscher, 2013).

If you are a consumer who is always looking for better products, even if you have already found something you like, you might be a maximizer.

Whether you adopt maximizing or satisficing strategies has implications for several cognitive abilities and perceptions.

  • First of all, Misuraca et al 2013 found in one of their experiments that maximizers and satisficers have different perceptions of time. Those who want to skim through all of the available options (maximizers), seem to underestimate the time that they spend checking out all options. Whereas satisficers overestimated their used time! In conclusion, in a decision-making task, maximizers will end up processing more information.
  • But it is also interesting to look at other constructs that might be correlated with maximizing. A team of researchers looked at regret, neuroticism, indecisiveness, avoidance, neuroticism, and life satisfaction. They found that maximizers are just as happy as satisficers! The only difference, according to them, was that maximers are more likely to experience regret (Diab, Gillespie, & Highhouse, 2008). Here you could reason that after having made a decision, maximizers will still be on the lookout for better options. Therefore the chances of experiencing regret are much greater.
  • Different research has indicated that maximizers tend to be more future orientated. Thus they might also be more likely to strive for achieving higher goals in order to create a better future for themselves. Another finding from the same study covered the hypothesis that maximizers are just better numerically. Their capacity to understand numerical information might be better because they are often involved in compromising to get the best available option (Misuraca, Teuscher, & Carmeci, 2015).
  • Chang, et al (2011) found that maximizing is related to perfectionism.
  • Another fascinating article looked at maximizers as sports fans. What they found is that maximizers identified more strongly with unsuccessful sports teams. In the article there doesn’t seem to be a clear explanation as to why this could be the case. They further explain that maximizers are more engaged with their team and buy more tickets and attend more games (Norris, Wann, & Zapalac, 2015).
  • But maximizing can also have negative implications. For example, in a World Cup betting experiment, maximizers were overconfident and worse in betting than satisficers (Schwartz, et al 2002).
  • Lai, L. (2011) found that maximizers tended to be less loyal consumers, they are more likely to switch to a different provider.

These are just a fraction of the findings on the implications of maximizing, and a lot of research still needs to be done on this decision-making strategy. From a seller’s perspective, it could be interesting to incorporate this into marketing campaigns. By ensuring maximizers that they have found the best possible option or deal, it could be easier to persuade them to buy your product. And from the perspective of a maximizer, it could be beneficial to know that you have these tendencies and are aware of where your regret is coming from when you have bought a certain product. And if there are any detrimental outcomes to adopting a maximizing strategy, mental health care practitioners should also be aware of this implications. For example, if there is a correlation between shopping addictions and/or materialism and maximizing.


Chang, E. C., Lin, N. J., Herringshaw, A. J., Sanna, L. J., Fabian, C. G., Perera, M. J., & Marchenko, V. V. (2011). Understanding the link between perfectionism and adjustment in college students: Examining the role of maximizing. Personality and Individual Differences, 50(7), 1074-1078.

Diab, D. L., Gillespie, M. A., & Highhouse, S. (2008). Are maximizers really unhappy? The measurement of maximizing tendency. Judgment and Decision Making, 3(5), 364.

Lai, L. (2011). Maximizing and customer loyalty: Are maximizers less loyal?.Judgment and Decision Making, 6(4), 307.

Misuraca, R., & Teuscher, U. (2013). Time flies when you maximize—Maximizers and satisficers perceive time differently when making decisions.Acta psychologica, 143(2), 176-180.

Misuraca, R., Teuscher, U., & Carmeci, F. A. (2015). Who are maximizers? Future oriented and highly numerate individuals. International Journal of Psychology.

Norris, J. I., Wann, D. L., & Zapalac, R. K. (2015). Sport fan maximizing: following the best team or being the best fan?. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 32(3), 157-166.

Schwartz, B., Ward, A., Monterosso, J., Lyubomirsky, S., White, K., & Lehman, D. R. (2002). Maximizing versus satisficing: happiness is a matter of choice. Journal of personality and social psychology, 83(5), 1178.

Photo by woodlywonderworks


Let’s Hypothesize: Impact of the Internet

We can’t deny the huge impact of the Internet on consumerism, and the other way around. Ever since we went through the industrial revolution, capitalism has been on the rise. And it is apparent that we have entered a consumer society. We seem to be much more preoccupied with buying and owning new products. And because the standards of living have increased, we are able to replace old products much faster than before. Less emphasis seems to be put on repairing broken products, instead we look for new ones.

The amount of Internet users has been rapidly increasing over the last couple of years. Plus, aside from this, Internet usage is also on the rise. We are more and more able to rely on this form of media to get goods and services. I probably don’t have to explain to you that you can buy anything from food to clothes in this virtual space. But it also means that illegal goods are also more available to the general public (think Deep Web).

The number one difference between buying products from the Internet and traditional buying, is the fact that you can just sit at home and shop away. Whereas before the existence of Internet shopping, you actually had to leave your house. In the past, people camped outside of stores to get tickets to see their favorite band. But now everyone just frantically sits behind their computers, refreshing til they ‘get in’. Also, if you have a friend that lives on the other side of the country, you can easily get them a gift with just the click of a mouse.

Apart from actually buying products, we can look up information about a variety of brands and models. Years ago we relied on information from store clerks or magazines, but now we can do our own research as consumers. Though, this overload of information means we have so much more research to conduct. However, a myriad of comparison sites exist that can do this type of work for us. There is a difficult aspect to anything on the Internet. Do companies pay to seem more favorable? For example, an energy company could pay to be listed much higher on a comparison site, while they might not deserve a higher spot on the list. The cognitive load of looking, judging, and weighing information is growing.

And on the other hand, an innumerable amount of review sites have come into existence as well. Plus, many online shopping sites have their own rating system. So not only can we rely on objective information, we can also read other people’s opinions on products and services. Which means that you can look up hotel reviews before actually booking. Though, there is also the problem of whom to trust. A quick look at someone’s profile on a review site can clear up a whole lot. Some people are just more critical than others, so they might be more prone to give out bad reviews.

Sadly, reviewing is linked to more issues. You might have received emails from companies asking you to review a product that you have recently bought.How often and under which circumstances would you go and review the product? Because we could reason that people only review when certain conditions are met. First of all, when we really like or dislike a product we might be more likely to give our opinion. But when we are ‘just’ satisfied, we couldn’t care less about letting others know what we think. Second, some people are just more into reviewing. So whether you actually post your opinion might be related to your personality or values.

Product-wise, it seems as if the amount of brands and products are on the increase. A great deal of brands only exist on the Internet, and do not have physical stores. Apart from this, brands and products can become specialized. For example, it’s easier to find merchandise of bands or TV series that are quite obscure. Additionally, because of the Internet, more subcultures are being brought to life, and as a result of the diversity of lifestyles is expanding. And if we were to look at, for instance, Halloween costumes, the variety and possibilities are endless nowadays. We can be or become anything we want to be.

Not only can we look for information, others (companies) can also look for information related to us. It is known that companies will try to gather information on our Internet behavior. If you do not have anything like AdBlocker installed, you might have been confronted with ads (on social media sites) of products that you were checking out a few hours ago while being on a online shopping site. So while you’re scrolling through your Facebook News Feed, you end up seeing the same sunglasses you were contemplating to buy earlier. This setting makes it easier for ads to become more personalized and accessible. And Facebook can include sponsored content in your News Feed, based on your demographic information and other pages you already liked.

On top of advertising, online shopping sites can alter their websites to make you more likely to continue browsing or buying. This can be achieved through the amount of products shown on a page, or the specific listing of products. More and more sites are starting to use A/B testing. This means that you might be seeing 10 results on a page, while I might be seeing 20 results on my computer screen. Researchers will constantly be checking which alteration will generate more traffic and longer stay on their site.

Furthermore, another impact of the Internet is globalization. The quantity of sites that deliver outside of one particular country is also on the rise. This means that we can buy products that are available outside of the country we reside in. And because the Internet is perpetually creating new cultures and trends, this can influence the types of products that are desirable at any given time. So we can buy candy from Japan, that is not purchasable in our own country. And Beyoncé’s music is spread even faster around the world, which means that it will become more accessible and her fame will expand even further. Thus since a new form of culture has been created, we have a new influence when it comes to learning about and liking products.

We can also sell our own products with much more ease, and we can offer these to a wider audience. But this also means that we ourselves have become merchants. Suddenly we have to adopt selling strategies to get rid of these products. Therefore, unexpectedly, we have to come up with our own ideas and ways on how we can get the highest offers, and to make the most money. We have to become even smarter.

But there are also downsides to the existence to Internet, at least for the creators of content. First of all, it is not to difficult to ‘steal’ and illegally share digital content like music, series, or movies. And second, there is still a big problem with user-generated content, which these users earn money with. Because others can easily share and redistribute this content, and make money off it, without the artist’s consent.

Then there is also the issue with trustworthiness. Which sites can we trust? Will they actually deliver the product? Will they deliver the exact product that was shown on the picture? To solve this problem, some countries have a quality mark, which trustworthy online shopping sites can earn. And on websites were everyone can sell their own products, there is often a reputation system. Using this system we can check if a person has had a good reputation in the past. Furthermore, when buying clothes, we aren’t always sure if they will fit us. Therefore some of these sites will have a return and refund policy.

The only big problem we still have is the delivery. Many delivery companies will have time windows that aren’t very convenient. Though, in some places it’s possible to get your products delivered to a pick up point close to your house. And since most of us probably don’t own a 3D printer, we’re gonna be relying on delivery for a while longer.

Despite the delivery problem, Internet shopping means a bigger diversity in products, more information, new cultures / trends, and new types of advertisement. Therefore our psychological processes might be changing, for example due to the bigger cognitive load, or different information presentation. Which means we will have to start from scratch on consumer behavior when it comes to consumerism and Internet use.

‘Let’s Hypothesize’ is part of an article series in which I do not rely on scientific references. Instead I will speculate on topics related to consumer behavior. Plus I will include more historical facts and sociological theories.

Photo by Robbert Noordzij

social sciences

Policy Strategies #1 Fear Appeals

In my last posts I focused on psychological processes consumers go through, and methods companies use to sell products. Companies usually want you to actually go out and buy their products. But there might be institutions out there that want to refrain you from buying certain products. Usually these are products that are either damaging to our health or detrimental to the environment. For example in some countries the government has decided to put a higher tax on tobacco products to discourage people from buying these. But this isn’t the only strategy governments can use to decrease tobacco sales. Another strategy involves something calledfear appeals“.

You might have already been exposed to commercials on TV in which you are confronted with ex-smokers who ended up getting chronic diseases. With this type of scary imagery institutions will try to persuade you to either never start smoking or to stop smoking. This is an example of fear appeal usage. These types of messages are intended to entice feelings of fear, literally scaring you to either perform / not perform a behavior. Now you might think that this could be a great idea to decrease tobacco use in any given society. But unfortunately, depending on several factors, fear appeals can actually have opposite effects.

Say we want to target smokers, and we want them to stop. So we come up with a super creepy commercial that includes all the horrendous consequences of smoking. Will smokers stop after seeing our incredibly spooky message? Probably not. First, some psychological process might be happening within the smoker when being confronted with this message. They might be (unconsciously) thinking about their “self-efficacy“. Self-efficacy is our own measure of confidence we have in being able to perform certain behaviors. So our confidence in being able to stop smoking. For example: can I cut back from smoking 10 cigarettes a day to ‘only’ smoking 5? But then there is also “response efficacy“. This is whether we have confidence in the fact that we can avoid all the threats listed in the persuasion message by stopping with smoking. So if I stop smoking, will I decrease the chances of getting a lung disease? (Witte & Allen, 2000).

Ruiter, Kessels, Peters and Kok (2014) wrote an extensive article about the use of fear appeals. In their article they describe that up until now, not much evidence exists for the successful use of  these kinds of appeals. People tend to display defense mechanisms when being exposed to fearful consequences of their maladaptive behaviors. Maybe you have heard a smoker say something along the lines of “my grandma was a chain smoker her whole life and died at 96!”. So using these types of anecdotes to justify not having to quit.

Instead of just focusing on fear, Morales, Wu, and Fitzsimons (2012) added disgusting imagery to their appeals in order to persuade people into avoid performing certain behaviors. One of their studies focused on getting students to understand the negative effects of drugs. By using very disgusting visuals, the researchers managed to persuade students to refrain from using drugs.
To my knowledge, the participants of this study weren’t drugs users. So including disgust in fear appeals might help persuade those who aren’t performing certain behaviors yet.

In Norway they held a mass media campaign using fear appeals to persuade people to stop smoking. And researchers looked at actual smokers and the short term effects of this campaign. It turns out that actual smoking behaviors were not affected, but people did experience a small increase in the motivation to quit (Halkjelsvik, Lund, Kraft, & Rise, 2013).

But if fear appeals don’t work, how can we get people to stop? Bader, Boisclair, and Ferrence (2011) found that taxation might be the answer. This type of policy seems to work among young people and those with low socio-economic status. But it doesn’t have much effect on heavy or long-term smokers or those with substance abuse disorders. Therefore this could be a good method to help youth to not invest in cigarettes and possibly a life-long addiction.

Even though fear appeals don’t seem to be enough to get people to stop smoking, it might still have beneficial consequences. Fear appeals alone are probably not enough to even refrain people from ever starting to smoke. But countries who invest a lot time and money in tobacco control, can help to maintain the amount of smokers.These measures might be, for example, taxing tobacco products, limiting tobacco sales, and prohibition of smoking in public places. Statistics show us that countries with high tobacco control are better at maintaining tobacco sales (Whoint, 2016). And big tobacco companies will in turn focus on low tobacco control countries and will settle in these regions. The negative effects of tobacco use on human health has been long known, now it’s just a matter of time before we can enjoy a cigarette free world.


Bader, P., Boisclair, D., & Ferrence, R. (2011). Effects of tobacco taxation and pricing on smoking behavior in high risk populations: a knowledge synthesis. International journal of environmental research and public health,8(11), 4118-4139.

Halkjelsvik, T., Lund, K. E., Kraft, P., & Rise, J. (2013). Fear appeals in advanced tobacco control environments: the impact of a National Mass Media Campaign in Norway. Health education research, 28(5), 888-897.

Morales, A. C., Wu, E. C., & Fitzsimons, G. J. (2012). How disgust enhances the effectiveness of fear appeals. Journal of Marketing Research,49(3), 383-393.

Ruiter, R. A., Kessels, L. T., Peters, G. J. Y., & Kok, G. (2014). Sixty years of fear appeal research: Current state of the evidence. International journal of psychology, 49(2), 63-70.

Whoint. (2016). WHO Western Pacific Region. Retrieved 8 March, 2016, from

Witte, K., & Allen, M. (2000). A meta-analysis of fear appeals: Implications for effective public health campaigns. Health education & behavior, 27(5), 591-615.

Photo by Amanda Mills

social sciences

Prospect theory #1 Buy my products!

Most of us are gonna have to make a myriad of financial decisions in our life times. We often presume that people are rational, and that people would make choices using their rationality. But, there seem to be some patterns in our behavior that are quite far from rational. A very interesting theory looks at how we perceive losses and gains, this is called the prospect theory. 

We often take risks when deciding to spend or to not. We can choose to get a loan, buy a lottery ticket, or buy a very expensive TV (instead of paying our monthly bills). But, all in all, people seem to be loss averse. This means we will try anything to avoid losing money. Though, losses hurt us more than gains bring us joy. So losing 100 euros is more painful than getting 100 euros were to make us happy. This finding is part of the prospect theory that was formulated by Kahneman and Tversky (Barberis, 2012).

The part were it gets especially interesting is when we start framing different scenarios. Framing is a psychological effect, people will make a decisions based on how a certain message is presented. This is an example from Kahneman and Tversky’s (2000) book:

  • Decision 1: Choose between
    • A. sure gain of $240
    • B. 25% chance to gain $1,000 and 75% chance to gain nothing
  • Decision 2: Choose between
    • C. sure loss of $750
    • D. 75% chance to lose $1,000 and 25% chance to lose nothing

In the first decision scenario, the majority of people seem to choose option ‘A’. But in the second decision scenario, people are more likely to go for option ‘D’. In the second scenario, there is a chance to avoid a big loss, so people are willing to gamble to possibly lose nothing.

With the existence of the internet, it has become so much easier to buy and sell goods. Even for us, consumers, it’s possible to sell our own things, on websites like Ebay. Loss aversion has implications for buying and selling situations. Often when we try to sell stuff that we’ve owned, we demand a higher prices than buyers would be willing to pay. This is called the endowment effect. And loss aversion can explain why there is a gap between the price people are willing to pay for a product, and the price people are willing to accept for their product (Morewedge & Giblin, 2015).
People who are selling are at risk of losing something, and they might want to compensate for this. They are the ones that go from owning something to possible losing something. Whereas a buyer doesn’t lose anything.
In sum, according to the prospect theory, losing money or products hurts us. So think twice before betting / gambling your money away!


Barberis, N. C. (2012). Thirty years of prospect theory in economics: A review and assessment (No. w18621). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (2000). Choices, values, and frames. Cambridge University Press.

Morewedge, C. K., & Giblin, C. E. (2015). Explanations of the endowment effect: an integrative review. Trends in cognitive sciences, 19(6), 339-348.

Photo by Avji

social sciences

Producer’s influence #1 Priming

You might have heard about it before, subliminal priming. You’re in the movie theater, and for some reason, randomly in the middle of the movie you get this uncontrollable, unexplainable craving for some Cola and popcorn.  They primed you! They flashed the words ‘Hungry? Eat popcorn!’ in the middle of the movie! But the duration of this was so incredibly short that you couldn’t even consciously register the secret message. And guess what happened next? The popcorn and cola sales at the movie theater went up! (O’Barr, 2013).

Sorry. That wasn’t actually true. It was something Mr Vicary in claimed all the way back in 1957. We know now that it’s actually not that easy to secretly trick people into buying things.
Sadly, priming is not that exciting. It works a bit differently, for example, if you see the word ‘spoon’, you will be faster at recognizing words like: ‘fork, knife, plate, cup’. Because those words are all linked together in a semantic network in your brain, and once you are confronted with ‘spoon’, other words will also be activated (Ratcliff, & McKoon, 1988).

Holland and Hendriks  (2005) conducted an interesting experiment on this topic, where they looked at the link between priming and behavioral outcomes. Participants were placed behind a desk and had to fill in a survey, while they were given a biscuit. They were asked to eat this biscuit, which would cause a lot of crumbs to fall down on the desk. And unbeknownst to the participants, a bucket with water mixed with a cleaning product was placed in the same room. The experimenters looked at whether the participants would dust off the desk or not. Of course, they also looked at a different group of participants, this group was not exposed to the cleaning product scent. The participants who were placed in the clean smelling room were more likely to dust off their desk, as opposed to those who were not.

So when can we actually manipulate consumers’ behavioral outcomes? We have already found out that subliminal messaging, as suggested by Vicary, does not work in real life. But actual experimenters have found effects in this department. But! Apparently it should be possible to flash people with subliminal messages, and get them to perform behaviors…. but only if they already had this intention. Strahan, Spencer, and Zanna (2002) found that those who were already thirsty were more likely to drink after being primed on thirst-related words. This is compared to those who were also thirsty and primed with neutral words and those who weren’t thirsty but also primed with thirst-related or neutral words. So in conclusion, when you already have a goal (to drink when your thirsty), and you’re primed, your more likely to go out and achieve this goal. So only those who have an objective can be successfully influenced.

But there is more to subliminal messages than just quick flashes of commands ordering you to get popcorn. There is a new method that many movies and TV series happen to use nowadays. It’s called product placement. This is a form of advertising. A famous Dutch TV drama, called Goede Tijden, Slechte Tijden, likes to include this in their episodes. For example, a yogurt brand will pay a sum of money so that the TV show will have your favorite characters eat this particular type of yogurt. Or, Korean dramas will coincidentally have all characters carry around the same type of phone. Chances are that a smartphone company has payed for product placement.
Liang, Hsiao, and Cheng,  (2015) found that urban romantic dramas (compared to mafia dramas) reflect our daily lives more, and therefore a higher placement effect will be created. Being able to identify with the characters’ lives will also increase this effect. So if you really like a specific character and you can identify with their life, you might end up buying the same popcorn that they were eating in that one episode.


Holland, R. W., Hendriks, M., & Aarts, H. (2005). Smells Like Clean Spirit Nonconscious Effects of Scent on Cognition and Behavior. Psychological Science, 16(9), 689-693.

Liang, A. R. D., Hsiao, T. Y., & Cheng, C. H. (2015). The Effects of Product Placement and Television Drama Types on the Consumer Responses of College Students. Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research, 20(11), 1212-1233.

O’Barr, W. M. (2013). ” Subliminal” Advertising. Advertising & Society Review, 13(4).

Ratcliff, R., & McKoon, G. (1988). A retrieval theory of priming in memory.Psychological review, 95(3), 385.

Strahan, E. J., Spencer, S. J., & Zanna, M. P. (2002). Subliminal priming and persuasion: Striking while the iron is hot. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38(6), 556-568.

Photo by Ricardo Benardo 

social sciences

Consumer choices #2 How we choose?!

Imagine you’re standing at the candy aisle again. You’re still looking for the best possible milk chocolate bar. So far we’ve seen that having too many options might not be very beneficial for your actual choice outcome. But how will you end up choosing?

I’m assuming that in your lifetime you’ll end up being involved in more choices than just trying to find tasty chocolate bars. You are probably aware of the fact that you’re looking at different options… all day. Should I read this entire blog post? What am I going to eat for dinner? What time should I set my alarm clock? Should I take the job?

If we look at ‘making choices’ in a consumer perspective, it’s interesting to look from a brand’s perspective. Say you’re trying to sell a new product, but there’s already fierce competition from other brands in the same market branch. How are you going to advertise your product to make it stand out? You will have to know how people process information. And multiple researchers have come up with different models on how and when we make choices.

A model that looks at information processing is the Heuristic-Systematic processing model (Chen, Duckworth, Chaiken, 1999). According to this model we have two different ways to process information.

  • First, we could take the heuristic route. This means we’ll use heuristics, these are simple rules of thumb to solve problems. When engaging in this type of processing, we might look at the packaging of the chocolate bars. In the Netherlands, we seem to have this unwritten rule that all milk chocolate is wrapped in blue. Relying on heuristics, we might grab the nearest bar with blue wrapping. We’re more likely to rely on cues, like the color of the packaging, when (a) the issue is not very important to us, (b) we’re under time pressure, or (c) not very motivated.
  • But we can also take the systematic route. Using this route, we’re trying to take in all available information, scrutinizing every detail, and analyzing everything. This way of information processing means using a lot of cognitive effort. In our candy aisle scenario, we would study all the bars, and look for information we find important. Are we into fair trade? Are we limiting ourselves to a certain amount of calories? Do we have a budget? We will compare every piece of information we find important. So when will we spend hours browsing the whole aisle? 1. When the matter is personally relevant to us (Chaiken, 1980)! And we’re just so incredibly passionate about the perfect bar of milk chocolate. 2. When we want to be accurate! So our bar can’t surpass 500 calories. 3. And when we have defense motivation! This means that we care a lot for judgments related to our ‘selves’. In our case, we are looking for chocolate brand that uses fair trade. Because we see ourselves as being nice to others on the planet.

A matter of self-control?
Let’s say you were visiting the grocery store to only get milk and cereal. Yet, you happened to pass the candy aisle and stop for a second. You’re telling yourself to continue walking to the check-out. Because for whatever reason (whether it be a specific diet, or budget reasons) chocolate wasn’t on your shopping list. But in a split second you do grab yourself a tasty chocolate bar. Why?!
Baumeister, Vohs, and Tice, (2007) have developed a model that explains how self-control might work. They use the ‘muscle metaphor’. Our self-control is referred to as a muscle, that will be depleted of energy after it has been used for awhile. So if you have been fighting off temptations all day (not getting angry, staying focused on your work, patiently waiting, etc) it will become harder and harder to practice self-control.
Researchers have even suggested that being low on blood glucose can decrease our self-control (Gailliot et al., 2007). So eating chocolate before shopping should help you refrain from impulse purchases.
Vohs, and Faber (2007) found that once participants’ were low on self-control, they were more likely to buy more and spend more money!

The supermarkets are manipulating you!
North, Hargreaves, and McKendrick  (1999) conducted a very interesting field experiment in a supermarket. This is an experimental setting in which people are looked at in their ‘natural habitat’. Supermarkets either played French or German music, and the experimenters checked to see if customers were more likely to buy French or German wine. And guess what? When French music was played in the background, more French wine was sold! This was also the case for the German wines. And after participants were asked if they were aware of the fact that their choices had been influenced by music, they reported not knowing about this at all!


Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K. D., & Tice, D. M. (2007). The strength model of self-control. Current directions in psychological science, 16(6), 351-355.

Chaiken, S. (1980). Heuristic versus systematic information processing and the use of source versus message cues in persuasion. Journal of personality and social psychology, 39(5), 752.

Chen, S., Duckworth, K., & Chaiken, S. (1999). Motivated heuristic and systematic processing. Psychological Inquiry, 10(1), 44-49.

Gailliot, M. T., Baumeister, R. F., DeWall, C. N., Maner, J. K., Plant, E. A., Tice, D. M., … & Schmeichel, B. J. (2007). Self-control relies on glucose as a limited energy source: willpower is more than a metaphor. Journal of personality and social psychology, 92(2), 325.

North, A. C., Hargreaves, D. J., & McKendrick, J. (1999). The influence of in-store music on wine selections. Journal of Applied psychology, 84(2), 271

Vohs, K. D., & Faber, R. J. (2007). Spent resources: Self-regulatory resource availability affects impulse buying. Journal of consumer research,33(4), 537-547.

Photo source: By Simon A. Eugster (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

social sciences

Consumer Choices #1 Too many choices!

Often people assume that more is better. And intuitively you might think that having a lot of options when buying a new product is more satisfactory or desirable. But the opposite could actually be true, if we look at existing research.

Lots of options are nice!
Imagine you’re at the candy aisle. You’re craving chocolate, just a bar of plain milk chocolate. But in most big supermarkets it seems as if there are a hundred different brands that sell chocolate bars. Now you have to choose one brand, though you could buy all of them, and try all of them to make sure you get the best tasting one. However, that will most likely end up being very time consuming and you will end up feeling pretty sick in the end. Or you could close your eyes and grab a random bar. But wouldn’t that increase the chances of picking a less than desirable option?

Too many choices?
Let’s look at actual research conducted on this topic. Iyengar and Lepper (2000) have written a great article on having too many options. In their article they created different experimental settings in order to test their hypotheses. In each of these experiments participants were assigned to either a high choice condition or a low choice condition (or a control group). In the high choice condition, people received the most possible options.
These researchers found that when given a limited amount of options, participants ended up feeling more satisfied with their choices. They were also more likely to actually buy products.

Where to go for Spring Break?! So many hotels!
A lot of research on the choice overload hypothesis has focused on products like chocolates. But Park and Young (2013) have looked at having too many options in a touristic setting. Students’ choice satisfaction was measured through the amount of hotels they could choose from, for their next spring break. They found that students who had fewer than 22 options reported feeling less regret, as opposed to those who had no choice or more than 22 options to choose from.

But why don’t we like to choose from a wide variety of chocolate bar brands?
Because we end up being less satisfied, we’re less sure of our choices, and we’re more likely to end up with feelings of regret (Chernev, Böckenholt, & Goodman, 2015).
Here, I’m going to speculate that we might be facing cognitive overload when having a lot of options. Since we have so much information to take in, we might not have time to thoroughly consider every separate option. This might explain the felt regret, when faced with loads of choices.

Are too many choices always ‘bad’? Is this effect real?
According to Scheibehenne, Greifeneder, & Todd, (2010) this is doesn’t have to be the case in every situation we encounter. For example we might like lots of different options when we’re choosing an unfamiliar product, or if all options are equally attractive.
Scheibehenne, B., Greifeneder, R., & Todd, P. M. (2010) also conducted a meta-analysis on choice overload. This is a statistical procedure in which results from different research experiments are aggregated in order to look at for specific effect. Through their meta-analysis they found that existing research combined did not create a robust finding. The effect size was almost zero, this means that there is barely any effect present. Although this research could indicate that the choice overload hypothesis might not actually exist, we can’t know for sure. Maybe we need to look at different conditions or set up different kinds of experimental settings. That’s the beauty of research and science.


Chernev, A., Böckenholt, U., & Goodman, J. (2015). Choice overload: A conceptual review and meta-analysis. Journal of Consumer Psychology,25(2), 333-358.

Iyengar, S. S., & Lepper, M. R. (2000). When choice is demotivating: Can one desire too much of a good thing?. Journal of personality and social psychology, 79(6), 995.

Park, J. Y., & Jang, S. S. (2013). Confused by too many choices? Choice overload in tourism. Tourism Management, 35, 1-12.

Scheibehenne, B., Greifeneder, R., & Todd, P. M. (2010). Can there ever be too many options? A meta-analytic review of choice overload. Journal of Consumer Research, 37(3), 409-425.

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