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Choosing to Have Less Choice

  • Maria Salgano

    (Northwestern University)

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    This paper investigates choice between opportunity sets. I argue that individuals may prefer to have fewer options for two reasons: First, smaller choice sets may provide information and reduce the need for the agent to contemplate the alternatives. Second, contemplation costs may be increasing in the size of the choice set, making smaller sets more desirable even when they do not provide any information to the agent. I identify which of these reasons drives individual behavior in a laboratory experiment. I find strong support for both the information and cognitive overload arguments. The effects do not disappear as participants gain experience with the task. Applications of these results include firms’ choices of product variety, as costs increase with the number of products offered, and the design of government policies, such as the Medicare Drug Discount Card Program, in which older citizens can choose among numerous cards for discounts in prescription drugs.

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    Paper provided by Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei in its series Working Papers with number 2006.37.

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    Date of creation: Feb 2006
    Date of revision:
    Handle: RePEc:fem:femwpa:2006.37
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    1. Faruk Gul & Wolfgang Pesendorfer, 2001. "Temptation and Self-Control," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 69(6), pages 1403-1435, November.
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    8. Barry L. Bayus & William P. Putsis, Jr., 1999. "Product Proliferation: An Empirical Analysis of Product Line Determinants and Market Outcomes," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 18(2), pages 137-153.
    9. Michaela Draganska & Dipak C. Jain, 2005. "Product-Line Length as a Competitive Tool," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 14(1), pages 1-28, 03.
    10. Bikhchandani, Sushil & Hirshleifer, David & Welch, Ivo, 1992. "A Theory of Fads, Fashion, Custom, and Cultural Change in Informational Cascades," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(5), pages 992-1026, October.
    11. Dean Karlan & Eldar Shafir & Jonathan Zinman & Marianne Bertrand & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2006. "What's psychology worth? A field experiment in the consumer credit market," Natural Field Experiments 00217, The Field Experiments Website.
    12. Loomes, Graham & Sugden, Robert, 1982. "Regret Theory: An Alternative Theory of Rational Choice under Uncertainty," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 92(368), pages 805-24, December.
    13. Jacoby, Jacob, 1984. " Perspectives on Information Overload," Journal of Consumer Research, University of Chicago Press, vol. 10(4), pages 432-35, March.
    14. Manski, Charles F., 2000. "Identification problems and decisions under ambiguity: Empirical analysis of treatment response and normative analysis of treatment choice," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 95(2), pages 415-442, April.
    15. Kreps, David M, 1979. "A Representation Theorem for "Preference for Flexibility"," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(3), pages 565-77, May.
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