The Goldilocks Effect

The Goldilocks Effect

When given a range of options from high to low people tend to go for the middle option. This is known as 'Extremeness Aversion,' or more commonly as 'The Goldilocks Effect.'

In a study at a McDonald’s outlet run by Sharpe, Staelin and Huber (2008), people were asked to choose between a range of different drink size options.

Regardless of the size options offered, 80% chose the median size option.

This happens largely because we assume the middle option is the average option (i.e. what most other people would choose). However, it’s also a result of us assuming that the options presented are appropriate to our needs.

This is clearly not always the case as evidenced by the ‘Trenta’ size drinks at Starbucks, which at 32oz is greater than the capacity of the average human stomach!

In another famous study, participants were given a choice between two different Minolta cameras: one priced at $170 and a second, with more features, at $240.

The result? Their choices were split equally between the two cameras i.e. 50-50.

Next, the researchers added a super-premium Minolta camera priced at $470. When this third option was present, what should have happened?

If the respondents' preferences for cameras were distributed in the same manner as they were in the first experiment (i.e. equally between the options), then you would expect that the most expensive camera option to have resulted in fewer people choosing the camera priced at $240.

But that isn’t what happened.

Instead, more people chose the middle camera option. Its share of the choices made rose to 57% with the remainder split between the other two camera options (priced at $170 and $470).

This behaviour occurs largely because we assume that the middle option is the average option (i.e. what most other people would choose). 

For more stories like these and to learn about the psychology behind them check out our course on Behavioural Economics from the rather wonderful Rory Sutherland.

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