As you approach the counter, you're greeted by a menu that feels like it goes on forever. Cappuccino or flat white? Decaf or extra shot? Almond milk or soy? The choices seem as endless as the caffeine options available.
In this moment, you find yourself caught in the crossroads of Hick's Law, where the number of choices intersects with the ticking clock of decision-making. Will you confidently place your order, or will the abundance of options lead you into a decision-making puzzle?
What is Hicks Law?
In very simple terms, Hick’s Law describes that when users have more choices, it takes them longer to decide.
Nowadays, people are overwhelmed by innumerable options. What was once a simple question, e.g., to choose between black coffee or milk, has now become a complex decision-making process.
Hick's Law, also known as Hick-Hyman Law, is a design concept created by British and American psychologists William Edmund Hick and Ray Hyman. In trying to understand how the number of things to consider affects how quickly someone reacts, they came up with an equation: RT = a + b log2 (n).
Breaking it down:
- RT is the reaction time.
- 'a' is the time not linked to decision-making.
- 'b' is a constant (around 0.155 seconds for humans) based on the time it takes to think about each option.
- log2 is a mathematical function.
- '(n)' is the number of equally likely choices.
Let's consider a practical example using the Hick's Law equation:
RT = a + b log2 (n)
Imagine you're at a restaurant, and the waiter hands you a menu with different categories: appetizers, mains, desserts, and drinks. The reaction time (RT) to make a decision (e.g., choosing a main course) can be analyzed using Hick's Law.
- RT: Reaction Time (the time it takes for you to make a decision)
- a: Time not involved in decision-making (e.g., physically moving your hand to point to a menu item)
- b: An empirically derived constant based on cognitive processing time (let's assume
- b is 0.155 seconds for this example)
- log2 (n): The logarithm function of the number of equally probable alternatives (n) you have to choose from
Now, let's say you have eight equally probable main course options (n=8).
RT = a + (0.155) log2 (8)
RT = a + (0.155) × 3
RT = a + 0.465
This simplified example illustrates that as the number of choices (n) increases, your reaction time (RT) also increases. The constant b reflects the additional cognitive time needed to process each option. In this case, with 8 main course options, the reaction time increases by 0.465 seconds, capturing the essence of Hick's Law. It emphasizes the relationship between the number of choices and the time it takes to make a decision.
Imagine if there were four main course options instead of eight. When you have fewer options to consider, making a decision becomes easier because there is less information overload. In this case, it is more likely that a person will make a better decision and will be happy with it.
Why does Hick’s Law work?
Hick's Law is based on how our brains work. There are two concepts that can explain why Hick’s Law works:
When we use a product, our short-term memory, also called working memory, stores the information needed for decisions. But working memory can only hold so much. If there are too many choices, our brains can't remember everything for the decision. When we have many options, we try to think about each one before deciding. But as the choices increase, it gets harder to process and decide because our brains get more loaded with information.
Each additional option requires mental processing, contributing to decision-making complexity. Hick's Law recognizes that cognitive resources are finite, and more options can overwhelm the decision-maker.
Hick's Law is closely tied to the concept of decision fatigue. With an abundance of choices, individuals may experience mental exhaustion, making it harder for them to arrive at a decision. The law acknowledges that decision-making efficiency decreases as the decision-maker is confronted with more alternatives.
How can you use Hick’s Law?
- Reduce choice complexity
- Create categories
- Give personalized recommendations
- Break down complex processes into smaller pieces
- Reduce choice complexity:
Making decisions is easier when there are fewer choices. To simplify things, limit the options or let buyers use filters to narrow their choices.Netflix
does this effectively by implementing the concept of reducing choices for easier decision-making. When you log in, you're presented with a curated selection based on your viewing history and preferences, minimizing the overwhelming number of choices compared to showing their entire library upfront. Additionally, they have filters where a user can select what types of genres they would like to watch.