“When Choice is Demotivating: Can One Desire too Much of a Good Thing?” Iyengar, S. S., & Lepper, M. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 995-1006. (2000).
This paper explored the phenomena of “choice overload.” Here is what they did.
They created two displays of gourmet jams. One display had 24 jars. The other had 6. Each display invited people to try the jams and offered them a discount coupon to buy the jam. They alternated these displays in a grocery store and tracked how many people passed the displays, how many people stopped and sampled the jams, and how many subsequently used the offered coupon to buy the jam.
The results were surprising.
* 24 jar display: 60% of the people passing the display sampled the jam, 3% purchased jam.
* 6 jar display: 40% of the people passing the display sampled the jam, 30% purchased jam.
The larger display was better at getting people’s attention. But the number of choices overwhelmed them and they just walked away with out deciding to purchase a jam. In other words, if the goal is to attract consumers, less is more. Too much choice is demotivating. Admittedly, selecting a gourmet jam is insignificant. Maybe for more important issues, “choice overload” is not relevant? The authors of this paper, however, went on to consider more important choices such as 401K plans, and once again, a clear choice overload effect was found. Choice overload is real. When people are faced with too many choices, the natural tendency is to “not make a choice” and just walk away (probably in frustration).