Why Do We Eat Booger Jelly Beans? Lessons from Utility Theory.

March 27th, 2016

In general, we try to make decisions that we think will maximize our expected utility. Typically, we conceptualize expected utility as a property resulting from the product we buy — i.e., we buy chocolate cake because it tastes good.


So why do people buy booger flavored Jelly Beans?


To answer this question, we have to revisit how we think about utility. In addition to the utility of a product, we might also derive utility from the process of buying a product. In other words, we buy booger flavored Jelly Beans not because they taste good, but because they are fun to buy.


In fact, there’s a class of products that offer little utility themselves, but from which we derive some utility through the process of buying. It’s also likely that the fleeting utility we experience in the process of buying these products leads us to mispredict the utility we’ll subsequently experience when we consume or use the product. I’d bet that after a few bites of booger Jelly Beans, the rest will end up in the pantry for months before they’re finally discarded.


The gap between these two forms of utility means that at least some of the products we enjoy buying the most are also the ones we’re most likely to regret. Buyer beware!