Option A or B

If someone gives you two options - “Want to come to A again or go to B?” Does the order of the options given suggest a preference?

I put this in GQ because I am wondering if there are any studies on this, but opinions are welcome.

Are you asking if the questioner is stating a preference by the way the question is asked or if the answer will be influenced by the way the question is asked. If the latter, I’m sure the answer is yes and there have been studies. Almost any change is the way a question is asked will change the responses.

You want to look at research on framing and anchoring. There is both psychological and economic research in these areas.

Framing is all about how a specific question is phrased. “This medicine cost $1000 and has some benefit should it be administered.” coupled with one of two followups: “It will help 55% of those to whom it is administered.” v. “It will be of no help to 45% of those to whom it is administered.” typically gets more positive responses in the first case than the second.

Anchoring is a type of framing that sets the status quo. The way you’ve written it would tend to anchor on A which might indicate the phraser’s preference, but in any case tends to make you think first about A. The opposite phrasing would tend to anchor on B.

If the questioner is stating a preference.

Just kinda curious. In this case, I don’t really care if it’s A or B. This is a friend of mine asking where we should meet for drinks. We have done both A and B before. It’s a monthly thing. I’ll ask her if she has a preference, but I was wondering if the order offered already shows a preference.

But it’s so simple. All you have to do is divine from what you know of the person: is he the sort of man who would put his preference first or second? No, a clever man would put his choice second, because he would would know that only a great fool would pick what was offered first. But he must have known that you were not a great fool, he would have counted on it, so you can clearly not choose the first choice.

Try this: Secretly flip a coin to choose your choice. When you tell your friend your choice, just notice if she has a crestfallen look on her face.

I use a variant of this to cure my own occaisional indecision: if you can’t choose between two alternatives, toss a coin. Ignore the actual fall of the coin; only pay attention to which outcome you suddenly discover you prefer.

Are you finished?

I would be surprised if there is any research on this. Everyone is different. Personally, I would not assume a person is stating a preference by the order listed If you want to be sure, preface it with, “I have no preference, would you rather do A or B?”

I’m kinda surprised though. I was thinking more along the lines of subconsciously putting one choice in front (or after) the other

I worked in the food industry and analyzed a lot of paired preference data. We always randomized so that half the time sample A was presented first, and half the time sample B was first. There is a strong first sample bias in this type of test, so a majority will pick the first sample. The randomization evens things out.

Edit for those that are unfamiliar with paired preference (simple version):
Sample A is presented: person tastes it.
Sample B is presented: person tastes it.
Person then states which of A or B he or she prefers.

How large was the preference?

The food study is interesting. In audio it is well known that the second option tends to be preferred, something that has been exploited for decades by saledroids pushing snakeoil components. This preference occurs even when the two options presented are identical, which is why it works for snakeoil. These studies are of course are about the actual thing being tried out, not the simple presentation of options in a question.

Sorry, but I don’t remember, but it was at least 10%. So if there was no difference (each sample gets 50% preference), the first choice would get picked 60% of the time.

So with randomization it would look like:
A first: 60% pick A, 40% pick B
B first: 60% pick B, 40% pick A
Total: 50% pick A, 50% pick B

As for food tasting, I think the idea is that the first taste sets the standard. Then the second is compared to it, and unless it is clearly better, the person will stay with the first sample. It probably also has to do with expectations, where the person is expecting good, yummy food. So anything close to that on the first sample is more than good enough.


A. Yes it does


B. No it doesn’t