Monday, October 13, 2008

My Brain on Chocolate

Due to my inability to control myself with Lake Champlain's Organic Milk Chocolate with Almonds and Sea Salt, I have to cut back tonight. That's what I get for writing an entry about eating chocolate and not getting fat. Now I have to walk my own talk. What the hell was I thinking?

Luckily I have a great episode to share with you that illustrates how the crazy human brain works (or, in this case, maybe doesn't work). You may have read about the scientific studies done on the impact of too many choices on the human brain. The study usually cited involves the sale of jams (or jellies - I really don't know what the difference is and let's not even talk about preserves or marmalade). Barry Schwartz, in his book The Paradox of Choice, covers this idea like, well, like jelly on white bread. (Bwah, ha, ha!)

Here's how it works - imagine you are at some fancy, schmancy food fair and there is a table selling fancy, schmancy jams (or whatever the hell it is). One table has six different types of jam; one has 24 different types. Which table sells more jam? (No, this is not the SAT).

The one with 6! 30% of people buy there, only 3% buy at the table with 24!! 27% more people buy at the table with fewer choices! This is huge!! Schwartz refers to this section of his book as "Why Choice is Demotivating."

Bah! you may be thinking. Those food fair people are obviously plebs who don't appreciate fruit embalming artistry when they see it! More is always better! America is built on this idea - why else do we have hundreds of types of EVERYTHING? Seriously, think of all the brands of everything from breakfast cereal to toilet paper. Even paper clips come in different sizes, colors, coatings - good grief!

Sure, you feel that way until it happens to you. You celebrate, rejoice, revel in choice until you experience CHOICE OVERLOAD (CO) and your brain literally freaks out. This happened to me, dear readers, AND IT CAN HAPPEN TO YOU!

I was worshipping in A Southern Season, aka Mecca for foodies. This place is gigantic and has huge sections for tea, coffee, wine, a bakery, a deli, an aisle solely devoted to hot sauces - you get the picture. Just about anything you might want from anywhere in the world that is food related is here. My favorite section is the candy section. Now don't be thinkin' these are some puny sections. A Southern Season has a candy section that is easily the size of three or four typical candy shops. They have a wall of jelly bellies, a full service chocolate counter, aisle and aisle and aisle of cookies, caramels, gummies, chocolates, marzipan - it's like Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory - but no Ooompa Loompas, and, uh, no factory. Whatever - it's cool!!!!

I was doing okay - my basket was packed, but I was still sharp. Lots of choices, but no overload. I was buying; I was happy; life was good. Hell, life was GREAT! Then I hit the chocolate bar display.

Bars were displayed up to the ceiling - there were thousands of them. Every brand and flavor I had ever heard of and many I hadn't. We're not talking grocery check-out aisle candy bars - we're talking gourmet candy bars from all over the world. All kinds of flavors and shapes and sizes and colors. Milk, dark, white - in all their variations and percentages. That's when it happened. That's when I went into CHOICE OVERLOAD.

My eye balls bugged, I moved from one end of this fantastic display to the other, picking up bars and putting them down. My heart was racing, I was babbling to my friend Carole Walker - "I can't decide there are so many - what to get - I already have so many at home - but I want to try these - look at this - who would have thought of this - but oh - this sounds great" - all the while pacing like a wild animal up and down the aisle. I don't know if choice was demotivating me - it was more like over motivating me. I was totally overloaded. If I was a cartoon character, smoke would have been coming out of my ears. And you know what the caption would read?

Overmotivated by Chocolate

What to do about CO or in this case, OC? Stay tuned!!


Heidi said...

I can't wait for part 2!
I just indulged in a Lindt chocolate truffle and oh m'gosh, I can't even imagine how you regularly sample these wonderful chocolate morsels without becoming an elephant. It is way to tempting for me!

Carl Weaver said...

Interesting stuff. When I read this type of thing and think of my own experience, it seems obviously true, but I could never generate this type of thought.

My wife is a decision scientist, so I will send this to her.

KiddoKare1 said...

That is exactly why I love shopping for groceries at Aldi's. There is pretty much only one choice of most items and that makes it really nice. It's especially nice for when I send my husband because when I say get a can of pears, there's only one kind of can of pears. LOL.