Effects of Array Size on Preschoolers’ Preference and Engagement: A Behavioral Translation of Choice Overload

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Recent social psychology and consumer behavior research has suggested that an abundance of options in choice contexts can have detrimental effects on decision making—a phenomenon termed choice overload. This investigation sought to use behavior analytic procedures to examine the effects of numerous options on the toy preference of 3 preschoolers. Toy engagement was assessed under repeated free-operant arrangements in which participants accessed arrays of either 6 or 30 toys for 2 min. Results showed that relative to the 6-item array, preference for the most preferred item was diminished and preference for the 3 least preferred items were elevated with the 30-item array. Additionally, engagement with toys in the 30-item array tended to occur more frequently but for shorter durations, suggesting an overall decrease in the reinforcing value of each toy when presented in a larger array. A behavioral interpretation of choice overload is offered, as well as potential implications for research and practice.

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