50 Ways to Leave a Lover, 8 Places to See Millennials Misbehaving, 10 Things I Hate About (Whatever), 7 Easy Recipes for Roadkill…

See a pattern? All these headlines offer multiple solutions to a “problem”, or capture the attention of the reader by using lists. It is especially entertaining to pick up a magazine, and try to catch them slacking. “Are there really 432 uses for Vaseline listed in here?” you might wonder.

A respected news channel is currently advertising a feature in which we are treated to the ways in which we are influenced by those in a position of power. Wearing a red tie and using the word “because” in a speech (JFK did it) are examples shared in the program promotional, and as I watched it for the umpteenth time, it occurred to me that the word because is important to this concept of “lists” and “numbers”.

In the absence of a JKF, or the even more authoritative matriarchal framing/response of “because”, which may or may not be followed by a list of reasons, “just because “or “because I told you” carries very little weight with most reasoning adults. We seem to need, or someone has decided we need, multiple reasons and edited choices to feel in control of our own choices and decisions. Psychology and marketing have met, and formed a formidable alliance.

Humans love classifying things. Our brains automatically work to align new information with existing schemas and therefore rationalize data. Humans love to manage time. By quantifying the list, we assign a finite amount of mental resources and physical presence to the task of acquiring the data. The problem of choice is minimized and the problem is solved with less anxiety.

Humans do not love having too many choices. When training leasing agents in property management, I would stress to them the importance of narrowing the list of available units to a manageable size. The prospective renter has only so much time and patience, and will feel more confident making a decision between three suitable apartments, as opposed to twelve or more vacant units. The “paradox of choice”, which psychologists Claude Messner and Michaela Wänke tested in 2011, proves that too many choices create too much stress, and causes human discomfort.

So, how does this translate for those lists that are ridiculously long? On Facebook, I came across an article for 101 ways to use bookshelves creatively. In the process of moving and thinking about crafting new spaces this article was intriguing, however, once confronted with 101 images I quickly backed away because there were just too many choices…