The "visual preference heuristic": The influence of visual versus verbal depiction on assortment processing, perceived variety, and choice overload

Claudia Townsend, Barbara E. Kahn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

91 Scopus citations


The "visual preference heuristic" suggests that consumers prefer visual to verbal depiction of information in a product assortment. Images produce greater perceptions of variety than text, which is appealing in assortment selection, but can result in choice complexity and overload when choice sets are large and preferences are unknown, suggesting a moderator for Iyengar and Lepper's results. Eye-tracking results reveal that the natural gestalt processing of individual visual stimuli, as compared to the piecemeal processing of individual textual stimuli, affects the processing of the assortment as a whole with visual (compared to verbal) presentation facilitating a faster, though more haphazard, scanning of the assortment. While the less systematic processing that results from visual presentation feels easier, it is not ideal for larger assortments resulting in higher complexity ratings and choice overload than with text depiction. These findings reveal that, like many heuristics, preference for visual depiction may be overapplied.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)993-1015
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Consumer Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - Feb 2014


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Marketing
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Anthropology

Cite this