Duke Research: Monkeys, Like Humans, Want Variety

Last Updated Apr 4, 2010 11:29 PM EDT

The fact that people like variety is no secret. New research from Duke University's Fuqua School of Business points to the extent to which we may even be hardwired to desire it.

Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke, along with researchers from the Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies in Rome, conducted experiments with monkeys to test their predilection toward variety.

They found that the monkeys, when given a token to "spend" on their favorite foods or a buffet, chose the buffet. This correlates with earlier research done on human subjects, such as one experiment finding that participants ate 43 percent more M&Ms when there were 10 colors in the bowl as opposed to seven.
"People choose variety for variety's sake," Ariely said in a Duke press release. "They often choose things they don't even like as well just for the variety. We knew about this, so the interesting thing was to figure out how basic it is."

The research raises obvious questions for businesses: How much variety do you offer your customers? In what areas could your products and services be more varied? Even offering the same products in new colors might be enough to keep your customers -- human or otherwise -- coming back for more.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Lin Pernille Photography, CC 2.0.

  • Stacy Blackman

    Stacy Sukov Blackman is president of Stacy Blackman Consulting, where she consults on MBA admissions. She earned her MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University and her Bachelor of Science from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Stacy serves on the Board of Directors of AIGAC, the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, and has published a guide to MBA Admissions, The MBA Application Roadmap.