Last year, in an unplanned conversation with friends during a weekend retreat, we found ourselves engaged in a spirited discussion about decision-making and choices. Some said fewer choices were preferred because it is easier to decide, while the contrary case was to prefer more choices so one can better decide what one wants. What influences the preference for fewer versus larger number of choices ?
It was a long lecture during the HEG program, taught by someone who spoke softly, and it was right after a good lunch. But, it was a lecture that brought a smile to my face, and made me sit-up because it discussed variation in food tendencies among people, and how it can be measured. In one survey example about choice of ice-cream parlor, assuming similar prices (and presumably similar quality), people from different nationalities were asked what they would choose: an ice-cream parlor with 10 choices or 50 ?1 Of the countries examined, at the higher-end of those preferring the 50-choice ice-cream parlor were people from the USA (56%) while at the lower-end were people from Switzerland (28%) and France (32%)1. What if the survey questioned choice of wine instead of ice-cream ?
The richness of food in France is well known. However, the incidence of cardiovascular disease and associated mortality in France, compared to the USA for instance, is low2. A French sociologist and American psychologist together with their team have researched and written about differences in food habits between the people of France and the USA2. Some of their results based on survey questionnaires indicate that in France, in contrast to the USA, there is a greater association of food with "pleasure" than "worry" - for instance, when asked to associate “heavy cream” with either “whipped” or “unhealthy”, 68% of American women choose “unhealthy” while only 28% do so in France; there is less snacking between meals; and, the meal portion size is smaller while the time spent conversing during meals is more (including eating at McDonalds)2.
An American gentleman I met recently while talking about the good time he had had during his recent vacation in France, added that for him, the one thing that was difficult to adapt to was the fact that he couldn’t easily get a cup of coffee to-go, instead he had to sit-down to drink it.
1. Rozin P et. al. Attitudes towards large numbers of choices in the food domain: a cross-cultural study of five countries in Europe and the USA. Appetite 2006
2. Rozin P. The meaning of food in our lives: a cross-cultural perspective on eating and well-being. Review. J Nutr Educ Behav 2005