Sunday 8 November 2015

Ice cream preferences: how context matters

What flavours do you have?’ asks Lucinda, contemplating the homemade ice creams.  ‘Chocolate, cherry and coffee,’ comes the reply.
Lucinda ponders for a moment or two, not exactly happy with a choice so limited. ‘I’ll have the coffee,’ she decides.
The waiter takes her order, but as he turns to walk away, he remembers, ‘Ah, we also have plum, peach and passion-fruit.’ ‘Splendid!’ says Lucinda. ‘I’ll go for the cherry.’


We all have preferences, often different preferences – and what we prefer depends on context, on the options available. Now, the Lucinda story generates a smile of bafflement: how can knowledge of the plum, peach and passion-fruit options lead her preference to switch from coffee to cherry, given that she rejected the cherry earlier on? That seems paradoxical. 

It does seem paradoxical; but we can tell a tale and the paradox vanishes. We hypothesize that Lucinda was initially unhappy with going for cherry, but only because it appeared to be the sole fruit flavour available.  ‘Maybe the ice cream maker lacks expertise in flavouring by fruit,’ she pondered.
On learning the availability of other fruits, Lucinda gained confidence in the maker’s fruity abilities. With such confidence, she could go for her top preference, namely, the cherry – but only when other fruits are available. Her preference for coffee gains top place, when only one fruit is available. Context affects her preference between coffee and cherry.
With that background point to the fore, let us see if it helps with some preference paradoxes and how we can ‘pump money’.

Extract from (right click): The Big Think Book