Less-is-better effect

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The less-is-better effect is a type of preference reversal that occurs when the lesser or smaller alternative of a proposition is preferred when evaluated separately, but not evaluated together. The term was first proposed by Christopher Hsee.[1] The effect has also been studied by Dan Ariely.

Another paradigm that incorporates this effect is Occam's razor, which is referred to as simplifying a situation as much as possible to avoid confusion and annoyance.[2]


In 1988 Christopher Hsee demonstrated the effect in a number of experiments:[1] When both of the following options were offered separately participants preferred the lesser option. However, if they were judged together, participants preferred the other larger or more numerous option. For instance:

  • seven ounces of ice cream overflowing in a small cup was preferred over eight ounces of ice cream in a much larger cup
  • a dinnerware set with 24 intact pieces was preferred over a dinnerware set of 31 pieces with a few broken pieces
  • a smaller dictionary was preferred over a larger dictionary with a torn cover
  • participants perceived people giving away a $45 scarf as more generous than those who gave a cheap $55 coat.

Hypothesized causes[edit]

Theoretical causes of the less-is-better effect include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Hsee, Christopher K. (1998). "Less Is Better: When Low-value Options Are Valued More Highly than High-value Options". Journal of Behavioral Decision Making 11: 107–121. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1099-0771(199806)11:2<107::AID-BDM292>3.0.CO;2-Y. 
  2. ^ Gibbs, Phil; Sugihara, Hiroshi. "What is Occam's Razor?". The Physics and Relativity FAQ. University of California, Riverside. Retrieved 20 October 2014. 
  3. ^ Medvec, V. H.; S. Madey & T. Gilovich (1995). "When less is more: Counterfactual thinking and satisfaction among Olympic medalists". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 69: 603–610. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.69.4.603. 
  4. ^ Wilson, T. D.; J. W. Schooler (1991). "Thinking too much: Introspection can reduce the quality of preferences and decisions". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 60: 181–192. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.60.2.181. 
  5. ^ Kahneman, Daniel (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.