At times when we want something and things are unavailable, we end up picking the closest substitute. But a new study suggests that we would be better off and happy picking something that is not-so-similar alternative.
The findings indicated that even though people tend to prefer the option that is most similar to the item they cannot have, they are likely to be more satisfied with the option that diverges a bit.
“Intuition suggests the next best thing is the thing most like the thing we want, but our findings suggest this intuition is wrong,” said lead study author Young Eun Huh of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
The intuition is wrong because it fails to account for the mental comparisons we end up making between what we wanted and what we ended up with.
“The thing that is most like what we want is also easiest to compare to what we are craving and we are likely to notice that it’s worse than what we want,” Huh explains.
The study, published in the journal of the Association for Psychological Science, examined 101 participants with different sets of foods on how making choices involving tradeoffs influences how satisfied we feel with those choices through a series of four experiments.
Each set included one desired food and two substitute options.
The majority of participants who tasted a piece of gourmet chocolate chose chocolate-covered peanuts over a granola bar as their preferred substitute; in fact, the stronger their craving for the chocolate, the more likely they were to choose the chocolate peanuts.
The findings provide insight into how we can maximise our satisfaction with the food we eat, given the choices available.
“Life often presents all of us with situations in which we can’t have exactly what we want: We might not get our dream job or be able to afford the perfect vacation,” the researchers noted.