Diet and healthy eating, among other things is a choice we make every day. Studies show the more choice we have the better we choose when it comes to healthy or fatty comfort foods.
This can be a choice of a salad over a burger, an award winning documentary over a comedy, or a practical appliance over a fun gadget.
The size of the menu in a restaurant is significant in that people make different choices depending on the size of the menu.
The smaller the menu will allow people to choose the old stand by of French fries or other comfort foods not necessarily healthy. Longer menus give so many options we need to rationalize what our final choice is.
People will think more about diet and healthy eating when they have more options on a menu or anything else where they need to make an informed decision. People will choose things that are virtuous, because they are easy to justify. This applies to a salad over a burger, a documentary over a comedy and a practical appliance over a fun gadget.
In one study an experiment was done with two groups of people consisting of 60 people in each group. They were to choose their favorite flavor of ice cream from some photographs. The first group was given a choice between one flavor of regular ice cream and one flavor of reduced-fat ice cream. The second group had more choice choosing from five regular and five fat-reduced flavors.
Of the group with only one choice 20% chose the reduced-fat ice cream while from the group with more choices 37% chose the reduced-fat ice cream.
In an experiment using different people and food of trays filled with fruit and cookies. As expected 55% chose the “virtuous” fruit over “vice” cookies from the small-choice tray while 76% of participants chose fruit in the large-assortment group.
There was however an important exception revealed in other experiments.
168 people were asked to choose between a computer printer and a fun MP3 player. Each item was in as before a low- and high- assortment group. Before the selection was made the groups were told they had to complete either a low- or high-effort set of calculation problems. In reality they were all doing the exact same nine equations.
The people in the “low-effort” task chose the computer by 48% just as in the previous experiments. The “high-effort” task group feeling they had worked a lot harder than the other group decided to reward themselves with the MP3 player and only 26% chose the computer.
In certain situations it seems it is easier to justify hedonic items. As an example, you may have just had a hard work out in the gym and it is easier to choose chocolate cake over fruit salad because you feel you earned it.
The implications are huge for public health officials, and marketers as this information can be used to nudge people to make better healthier decisions without removing their freedom of choice.
We just leverage the irrationality of human behavior, such as buying a salad labeled “98-per-cent fat-free” than one saying contains two per cent fat, and more likely to donate our organs if the answer is to opt-out rather than opt-in.
This decision-engineering, known as “libertarian paternalism.” Is slightly controversial because of manipulation although critics are fading, because everywhere there is persuasion from politics, to commercials to prime time TV.