Tyranny of choice: take two

From 'Blink' by Malcolm Gladwell, relating an experiment by Sheena Iyengar, Professor of Business, Columbia Business School:

"... she set up a tasting booth with a variety of exotic gourmet jams at the upscale grocery store Draegars's in Menlo Park, California. Sometimes the booth has six different jams, and sometimes Iyengar had twenty-four different jams on display. She wanted to see whether the number of jam choices made any difference in the number of jams sold.

Conventional economic wisdom, of course, says that the more choices consumers have, the more likely they are to buy, because it is easier for consumers to find the jam that perfectly fits their needs.

But Iyengar found the opposite to be true. Thirty percent of those who stopped by the six-choice booth ended up buying some jam, while only 3 percent of those who stopped by the bigger booth bought anything.

Why is that? Because buying jam is a snap decision. You say to yourself, instinctively, I want that one. And if you are given too many choices, if you are forced to consider much more than your unconscious is comfortable with, you get paralysed."

Replace jam with beer? To an extent. I'd still buy a beer if faced by twenty-four taps. But I'd be feeling the tyranny and dread whilst drinking what I chose.

Sheena's original paper with Mark Lepper can be found here. If you have twenty-ish minutes to spare - make a cuppa, turn the TV off and make time - one of her greatest TED talks is here.


  1. Gladwell has recieved some criticism for the validity of Blink after that concept of stalling decision making was turned upside-down by the good folks on the bank deriviative floors pre-Recession to mean one simply goes with the gut and dumps thinking too much. Me, 24 taps? Happy.

  2. It's a well known phenomenon (perhaps because of the Blink book) - I remember as a teenager failing to be able to choose a computer game to play once I had a certain number to choose from, and picking a CD to play these days is a nightmare - no wonder people leave the playlists up to their computers!

    Maybe I should pick six CDs at random, and then pick one from those six...

    As for beer - it's a real real pain choosing a beer from a place with a beer menu - for example the Lamb Brewery in Chiswick - because there is so much choice. No wonder they have put beer recommendations besides each dish on the menu. Oddly enough however, I don't walk away when confronted with too many beer choices :-)