The choice effect
Tuesday 20 September 2011
As a nation we’re quite literally ‘spoilt for choice’. Everywhere we turn there is a mind-boggling parade of consumer choices offering everything from clothes, gadgets, holidays, entertainment and pet insurance, to what career paths to follow and how to plan our social calendars. You only need to pop into your local supermarket for a tube of toothpaste and a pint of milk, to realise that the sheer amount of choices on offer are overwhelming. Each product claiming to do something different from the next – do you want organic milk or regular, do you want it from a cow or from a bean, with or without calcium?
Although all of these options mean we sometimes get exactly what we want, are we suffering from a paradox of choice –a generation that loves choice but hates choosing?
In an experiment carried out by Columbia University over ten years ago (when consumer goods were in shorter supply), researchers found that too much choice actually lead to people responding negatively. During the experiment shoppers were presented with different options of Jam in the supermarket. Some shoppers saw a variety of 6 different Jams; others were shown 30. Results found that those shoppers that were presented with a smaller amount of options (30%) went onto to purchase the product. Subsequently, only a mere 3% of shoppers went on to buy the product after being given a larger choice- suggesting that we thrive when we are given less to choose from.
Too many fish in the sea?
Nothing seems to exemplify this paradox of choice more than our dating habits and our attitudes towards commitment. With the taboo of online dating rapidly dissipating – thanks to our strong reliance on technology – more people than ever are turning to online dating to weigh up their options and see what’s on offer.
Online dating allows us to access pools of singles anytime, anywhere. With an abundance of singles and this instantaneous approach to dating, we can pick and choose who we want to date at the click of a button or a tap of a mobile phone screen. Similar to that of the Jam test, all of this choice has given rise to a conundrum for those who are dating - the more choice we have, the more difficult it becomes for us to decide what it is that we want. Even though we love to have options, they make us second guess ourselves, ‘do we have enough in common?’, ‘will I find someone better if I continue looking?’ We begin flipping through photos and judging people very quickly based on face value. We've potentially always been doing that in a real life sense, but now we're not even talking to them, simply dismissing people because they have a dodgy headshot online.
The rise of the niche site
So if all of this choice is actually hindering our decision making, what does this mean for the future of relationships and online dating in-particular?
Studies are showing that there’s a growing proportion of users who are now shifting to a much more specific approach to online dating, thus narrowing their choices and making the decision making process a little easier. To cater for this demand we are now seeing an influx in niche specific sites popping up online. Everything from interest specific sites; such as sports, the outdoors, rock music and so on; to sites based on religion and ethnic background; sites based on occupation; and sites based purely on what people are looking for in a relationship - whether that be casual, long term or just for the night.
Although popular, mainstream sites like Match.com and e-Harmony are more about quantity rather than quality. Attracting all sorts of people with all kinds of interests, the choice paradox couldn’t be truer for these brands. Singles may log on and feel so overwhelmed by the sheer amount of choice on offer that they don’t know where to begin, and subsequently log back off again.
When less is more
Deciding on priorities before looking at what’s available will help to counter-act the choice effect. Everyone has their very own unique vision, or ‘check-list’ of what they are looking for in a partner, so it makes sense to join a site that matches the very basics on the list. Is it important that your partner has the same passion for the outdoors as you do? Or maybe sharing the same religion is a priority to you? Whatever your criteria, there is probably a niche for it. The beauty of niche dating is similar to that of the Jam test, in that the less people in the dating pool, the higher the chances of finding a potential match. It’s harder to feel angst-ridden when there are fewer choices to be made.
So why not find your niche and find the niche dating site for you. Here at Independent Dating we cater for like-minded singles who all share a similar viewpoint and lifestyle. Join today and find your perfect match!