A greater assortment of menu choices leads people to order healthier meals, according to new research from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Marketing.
In one of a series of five experiments, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, 121 people were asked to choose their preferred flavour of ice cream from photographs. The first group chose from a low-variety assortment containing one regular ice cream and one reduced-fat ice cream, while the second group chose from a high-variety group with 10 ice cream options - five regular, five reduced-fat.
Only 20 percent of participants in the small-assortment group selected reduced-fat cones, compared to 37 percent of those in the large-assortment group.
The experiment was repeated with different participants, this time in a field setting using actual trays of fruit and cookies.
When presented with the small-variety tray, 55 percent of participants chose the "virtuous" fruit over the "vice" cookies. In comparison, 76 percent of those presented with more options chose the healthier food.
While fewer offerings allow an easy "default" to french fries and other fatty comfort foods, longer menus provide so many options that we feel the need to rationalize what we ultimately order, explains the author of this study.
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