Hobson's +1 Choice Effect

Theory explained by Sander Volbeda

Hobson's +1 choice is about adding an extra link next to the call to action (CTA), for example, that could be a link like 'add this product to your favourites'. To understand Hobson's +1 choice you first need to know about the original Hobson's choice. Hobson's choice is about to take it or leave it, giving people just one option. Hobson's +1 choice is about adding one extra option so people have two options to choose from instead.

Hobson's choice comes from Thomas Hobson, he was a wealthy landowner and stable owner in the 17th Century with over 40 horses. He would give those who came to ride his horses only one option, take the nearest horse to the stable door. Why? He didn't want the best horses to get overworked. If he allowed people to choose for themselves they would choose the best horses. So he told people to take the horse nearest to the stable doors or not to take one at all.

In 2004 Barry Schwartz developed the concept of Paradox of Choice. This concept shows how people become overwhelmed when they have too many options and how this leads to frustration. The important part about the concept of Paradox of Choice is that it only comes into play after 3 or more choices. The fact is that offering people two or more options is exactly better than offering only one or none at all. 

Research has shown when somebody is confronted with Hobson's choice they are more likely to go for ''leave it'' than the "take it" option. But, when there is another option added it feels easier to make a decision and opt for one of the choices shown to us. 

When we're facing a ''take it or leave it'' choice, we use all our mental energy from System 2. System 2 is our slower, more deliberative, and more logical mind while System 1 is instinctive and emotional, more about this subject can be found in this article about System 1 and 2 from Daniel Kahneman. Studies have shown that when you get two options instead of one we use the same mental energy but instead of dividing it on "take it" or "leave it" it's now dividing on "take it" or "second option". As you can now understand this makes us more likely to choose one of the two "suggest/active" options instead of leaving it. 

How to apply this to your own website? 

We've applied it to our own website on the homepage like this, you can either create a free account and start searching but you can also try it before you create an account (although this is very limited).  

CRO tool homepage 2020

This principle is often used for e-commerce websites, but basically it can be applied to any place where there is a call-to-action. Let's take a look at some other examples.  

Like you can see there are multiple ways in which you can use this Hobson's +1 Choice Effect. You can either add a compare functionality as an extra option, or add to favorites but it can also be something like sharing the product with somebody. 

Tips for experiments: 

  • Add a second option to your call to action buttons (this can be a link, compare/favorite button etc.)
  • If possible try to lead both actions to the same end goal
  • When your customer has only one goal doesn't offer them the second option, you wouldn't want them to be distracted

Example of hypothesis applied

If we add an extra button next to the call-to-action, then conversions for new users on desktop devices will increase, because of Hobson's +1 Choice Effect

Overlapping theories

These are theories which have overlap with the theory you're currently looking at, it's worth exploring them.

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Would you like to go more in-depth? Here are our recommendations:

The Tyranny Of Choice by Renata Salecl


1. Wheel of Persuasion - Hobson's +1 Choice Effect


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