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The brain pointed to the optimal number of objects for effective selection

The Good Place / NBC, 2016

Spanish scientists found that to influence the decision of the consumer can be too large or too small a number of possible options. To do this, they conducted an experiment using a functional MRI, during which they studied the activity of the brain zones responsible for objective evaluation of the value. The easiest way to choose an object for participants was if the number of options was average, according to an article  published  in the journal Nature Human Behavior .

When choosing between multiple alternatives, the decision-making process is disrupted by the cognitive process, which is called the ” choice overload “. Usually its influence is short-lived and insignificant (the consumer eventually makes any decision anyway), but can lead to undesirable results. For example, a study conducted in the early 00’s showsthat in the event that buyers are given to try the product in several types to choose from, they will rather choose one that they like and buy it if there are fewer options. Nevertheless, all currently available information on the mechanism of congestion of choice has emerged due to behavioral research: the neurobiological mechanism of choice in a variety of different alternatives, thus, remains unexplored.

The researchers decided to correct it under the direction of Elena Reutskaja from the IESE Business School at the University of Navarra (Barcelona). They conducted an experiment using fMRI, in which 19 people took part: they had to choose one picture of nature from 6, 12 or 24 images, select an object (mug or T-shirt) on which it would be possible to print the image and then evaluate their own choice. In studying the activity, scientists focused on the striatum  and the anterior cingulate cortex , the areas of the brain that are responsible for the executive functions and the evaluation of the objects of choice in decision making.

The scientists noticed that participants who needed to select an image of 12 called the choice easier than those that needed to be selected from 6 and 24. The same reflected the activity of their brain: both the striped body and the front waist cortex were most active in the case if you had to select from 12 images, while in the case of a smaller and larger number of objects, activity was lower.

The authors of the work concluded that 12 is the optimal number of subjects for multiple choice. However, the reasons that fewer and more people do not allow people to make the right choice are different: in the case of too many options, there may be an excess of choice, and in the case where options are not enough, the choice is narrowed, which makes it more thorough. Scientists state that 12 is not an axiom of rational decision making, but a number that is determined by experimental design: in general, the limitations of choice are also determined by the characteristics of the object and by the value attributed to them by the consumer.

This week and next week the Nobel Prize winners are announced: the name of the person who will receive an award in economics, we will learn on Monday. In the meantime, you can recall our material “Least Rational” , dedicated to the works of Richard Thaler, last year’s winner, who received an award for research in the field of behavioral economics.

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