One Catherine Bennet has yet another article in the Guardian about that jam experiment. Hers is called Since when was giving people a choice a good idea?
It is not merely the chorus from anguished parents (and patients), that they cannot exercise choice where there is no spare capacity, that might give a rational education secretary pause, but a growing body of research indicating that too much choice is overwhelming. Gove will know of the much cited experiment with jam, by the US academic Sheena Iyengar, which found consumers were more than six times more likely to buy a pot if they had to choose from six varieties, rather than 24. If uncertainty about preserves is a problem one can probably live with, or possibly enjoy, a similar helplessness in the face of big, irreversible decisions is, to judge by a new study, State of Confusion by Professor Harriet Bradley of Bristol University, something that should worry a government that advertises choice as an unmitigated good.
Mr Eugenides says,
So, just to recap: a woman who used to live with a lord in a 365-room mansion, now in a household with a combined income of some quarter of a million pounds a year, has read a PR puff commissioned and paid for to advertise a price comparison website, and uses this as evidence that we should all just take what we’re given by the state and shut up.
Ironically, price comparison websites are themselves a market mechanism for making choice easier.
I say, to Catherine Bennett and the next fifteen journalists to go into an ecstasy of servility when pondering this little demonstration that some people find shopping boring, shut up about the jam already. It’s jam. The process of choosing it has no deeper meaning. Unless one is a connoisseur of jam, in which case one probably finds choosing between 24 varieties a pleasing experience, as people usually do when shopping for something that interests them.
Look at it this way, Ms Bennett. You have twice to my knowledge chosen a man as mate and helpmeet. Was making that choice from all the prospective partners you could have had ever stressful? There is some literature – like about half of it – to suggest that some people find it so. Some people regret their choice. The evidence suggests that you have at least once. Can we assume that if by any sad chance you find yourself seeking a man again you are willing to let a civil servant choose for you?