A trip to the nearest library, grocery store, or a footwear outlet can tickle your brain cells. As such the thought of shopping — spending lavishly on your favourite products isn’t big enough, the sight of a dozen varieties can do a lot to your brain!

Shopping Behaviour Study: “Too many choices can overwhelm your brain!”

Are you one of those ardent shoppers who go tripping by just looking at the endless choices available for you? When you’re not able to conclude which footwear brand to buy, what to order for lunch, or which book to read; these are all signs of an overwhelmed brain. Read on to find more..

A recent shopping behaviour study conducted at California Institute of Technology by Colin Camerer, revealed the phenomenon of “choices overload”, which affects various parts of the human brain. It also suggests the various alternatives human brain prefers while making decision to finalize what is to be done.

The study was carried out with volunteers being presented with several images of scenic landscapes. These pictures were printed on objects such as coffee mugs, etc. Each volunteer was offered various sets of images containing 6,12, or 24 images.

The participants were asked to arrive at a decision, while a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine recorded their mental activities. As a controlling factor, the volunteers were asked to browse through the images several times, as the computer randomly selected images.

The scans made by fMRI found brain activities in two major regions — the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) and the Striatum. ACC is wherein decisions are analyzed on the basis of potential costs and benefits of such decisions. Meanwhile, the Striatum in the brain takes care of determining value.  

Camerer, along with his colleagues, also conducted that effect of the activities taken place especially in ACC and Striatum. That is, activities were highest in volunteers who had 12 options to pick from. While, it affected lesser for participants who had to pick either 6 or 24 products.

shopping behaviour study

To support his shopping behaviour study, Camerer said that the pattern of mental activity is perhaps the result of the interaction between the ACC and Striatum. Wherein, the potential for outcome (i.e. deciding an image they’d like to have for their mug) as compared to the amount of work done by the brain to analyze other alternatives.

Both factors — the number of options and the potential reward increase upto a certain limit. After a while, both also diminish and level off due to declining returns.  

Camerer said, “the idea is that the best out of 12 is probably rather good, while the jump to the best out of 24 is not a big improvement”. On the other hand, the amount of efforts, put in to evaluate the options, also do increase.

The mental effort and the potential reward arrive at one common spot where the reward is not too low and the effort is not too high, either. Camerer pointed that this pattern did not exist when the volunteers just glanced through the images. This is because, there was no potential for rewards and hence lesser effort was put-in to analyze the options.

The shopping behaviour study further addresses that “12” is not a magic number for humans to make decisions. However, it surely is an artifact of the experimental design.

It was estimated that the ideal number of alternatives for a person to choose from, can be any number between 8 to 15. Well, but that too depends on various factors including — rewards perceived, difficulty in analyzing options, and individual characteristics.

Hence, your nearest library, grocery store, or footwear outlet is sure to throw in lots of product alternatives — along with multiple varieties. So apparently, there maybe a kingdom of books, soaps, or footwear of several brands, textures, characteristics, flavours, etc. to choose from.

With these many commendable options lined up, Camerer says it’s partially because people get more freedom looking at such products. They feel being offered with several alternatives that time can be a constraint as it can be difficult for them to finalize what to buy. Camerer further adds, “Essentially, our eyes are bigger than our stomachs!”.

Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/columnist/2018/07/31/brain-science-too-many-options-overwhelm/866236002/