There is a science to studying choice. This science serves as the foundation to conjoint analysis (product optimization and pricing research), as well as approaches to brand equity research and competitive loyalty models.

This article provides a brief summary of the history of that science, including its logic and some of the thinkers who developed it.

Traditional economics invents a convenient fiction that allows it to simplify and to think about how humans make decisions. This fiction, "rational economic man," is a "utility maximizer." That is, he seeks to do what is best for him economically. If two cars are identical but one is cheaper, he buys the cheaper one; if the same type of checking account pays him interest at Bank of America but not at Citibank, he opens the account at Bank of America; and so on. Many of us behave like rational economic man, much of the time.

Unfortunately, the fiction of rational economic man turns out to be a little too simple to use. He always picks the product with the highest utility, but when real humans choose, they may not have their facts straight about all of the products they could choose, or they're preferences could change day-to-day. Add to that, there are just really a lot of products from which to choose. It took a while for economists to account for all this complexity, and they did so with the help of a pair of mathematical psychologists.

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