This is very interesting. It seem that consumers will consume more if they perceive that they have more choices – even if they really do not.
It does, Kahn found after conducting a series of experiments that she and University of Illinois professor Brian Wansink are publishing in a forthcoming issue of Journal of Consumer Research. Their work, titled "The Influence of Assortment Structure on Perceived Variety and Consumption Quantities," found that the perception of variety, even when illusory, stimulates people to consume more. Kahn's and Wansink's research reinforces other recent studies challenging long-held views that a person's ability to control eating, spending and general overindulgence has solely to do with willpower, or a lack thereof. Environmental factors, including portion size, price and the number of choices presented, also play a key role in America's well-documented passion for overindulgence, social scientists are now finding.
Sounds like a great new tool for marketers. Part of the work though, may be used to curb marketing, especially in the "Big Food" industry:
"The normal economic model would be that you eat when you are hungry or that you buy things that you need and that you don't buy things that you don't need. But we don't think people really know how to eat today – they look for cues. And most people don't realize that an assortment of a product encourages them to take more. We are all mindlessly making a lot of decisions."
I do think it is important to educate people about how they are manipulated by marketing. But that is tough to do, because most people believe perception is reality, and that simply isn't true.