Preferences refer to value judgments you make about one thing over another. We all have preferences, but they are believed to be influenced by a range of factors.
A clear understanding of your preferences can help with decision-making skills, make you feel more confident in yourself, and help you to develop a strong sense of personal, and even cultural, identity.
So, as you read through, have a think about what your preferences are from the following examples.
1. Food & Beverage
People might prefer vegetarian dishes over meat-based ones, believing in the health or ethical benefits. Others might choose a cold brew coffee over a hot espresso, valuing its smoother taste and lower acidity.
Musical tastes can vary a lot, but at the same time, society goes through waves where one genre or another is most popular. Nevertheless, some people naturally gravitate towards the soothing melodies of classical music, finding it relaxing and timeless. In contrast, others might resonate more with the energetic beats of hip-hop, appreciating its lyrical depth and contemporary sound.
As with music, fashion styles come in waves. If you don’t dress like the fashion, you may be considered strange, which reflects how society influences taste. Nevertheless, some people stick to their preferences no matter what, like my cousin Joe who’s always dressed for the 70s, no matter what others think of him!
One traveler might prioritize visiting remote, off-the-beaten-path destinations, seeking authentic and unique experiences. Another might prefer well-trodden tourist spots, valuing the convenience, amenities, and familiarity they offer.
My wife is captivated by the imaginative worlds of fantasy novels, enjoying the escape from reality. I, a productivity and self-development nerd, prefer to read nonfiction books about how to better myself and get the most out of life. I know, this is an unpopular preference of mine!
It seems one of the most popular forms of entertainment is superhero movies, which are produced on a regular basis by Hollywood and released on the big screen. On the other hand, some might prefer the introspective nature of documentaries, seeking to learn and gain insights about the world, or not movies at all, but rather the high culture choice of theater.
Sports preferences are often socially-influenced. We tend to follow sports that our parents, friends, or community follow. We are socialized into our sporting preferences. So, we can see widespread regional differences – soccer in Europe, hockey in Canada (note the environmental influence in widespread love of a sport on ice!), and baseball in the United States. But, we also have our own preferences. Some people are drawn to the team dynamics and strategy of football, enjoying both playing and watching the sport. Others might find solace in the individual discipline of long-distance running, appreciating the endurance and mental strength it requires.
Preferences for pets often comes down to “are you a cat person or a dog person?” Many households cherish the companionship of dogs, valuing their loyalty and playful nature. In contrast, others might be drawn to the low-maintenance and independent nature of cats.
Hobbies are often deeply personal, reflecting how our personalities influence our preferences. An introvert might find relaxation in the meticulous nature of model building, creating detailed replicas of vehicles or buildings. Extraverts might follow more social hobbies like dance classes or improve clubs.
Related: A List of 101 Hobbies and Interests
Many people love the warmth and extended daylight of summer, enjoying outdoor activities and beach trips. However, others might prefer the coziness and serenity of winter, appreciating the snow-covered landscapes and indoor comforts. I used to be a ‘winter person’ and while I still love the snow and going out on my snowboard, increasingly, I’m loving the warmth and joy of summer. Our preferences can change!
A Full List of 50 Categories of Preferences
- Food & Beverage (e.g., vegetarian vs. meat-eater)
- Music (e.g., jazz vs. pop)
- Fashion (e.g., casual vs. formal wear)
- Travel (e.g., adventure vs. relaxation)
- Literature (e.g., fiction vs. non-fiction)
- Entertainment (e.g., movies vs. theater)
- Sports (e.g., team sports vs. individual sports)
- Technology (e.g., Mac vs. PC)
- Art (e.g., modern vs. classical)
- Transportation (e.g., car vs. public transit)
- Hobbies (e.g., gardening vs. gaming)
- Social Media (e.g., Instagram vs. Twitter)
- Pets (e.g., cats vs. dogs)
- Living Environment (e.g., urban vs. rural)
- Entertainment Medium (e.g., TV shows vs. podcasts)
- Language Learning (e.g., immersion vs. classroom)
- Time of Day (e.g., morning person vs. night owl)
- Education (e.g., self-taught vs. formal education)
- Work Environment (e.g., remote vs. in-office)
- Shopping (e.g., online vs. in-store)
- Beverages (e.g., coffee vs. tea)
- Fitness (e.g., gym vs. home workouts)
- Gaming (e.g., console vs. PC)
- Home Decor (e.g., minimalist vs. eclectic)
- Weather (e.g., summer vs. winter)
- Outdoor Activities (e.g., hiking vs. beach lounging)
- Nightlife (e.g., clubbing vs. quiet bars)
- Communication (e.g., texting vs. calling)
- Learning (e.g., reading vs. video tutorials)
- Cooking (e.g., homemade vs. takeout)
- Time Management (e.g., planner vs. spontaneous)
- Investment (e.g., stocks vs. real estate)
- Education Methods (e.g., homeschooling vs. public schooling)
- Crafts (e.g., knitting vs. painting)
- Beauty & Grooming (e.g., makeup vs. natural)
- Footwear (e.g., heels vs. flats)
- Celebrations (e.g., big parties vs. intimate gatherings)
- Photography (e.g., digital vs. film)
- Books (e.g., e-books vs. physical books)
- News Consumption (e.g., online vs. print)
- Automobiles (e.g., electric vs. gasoline)
- Nature (e.g., mountains vs. beaches)
- Accommodation (e.g., hotels vs. hostels)
- Dining (e.g., fine dining vs. street food)
- Parenting (e.g., strict vs. lenient)
- Relationships (e.g., monogamy vs. polyamory)
- Healthcare (e.g., traditional medicine vs. alternative therapies)
- Religion & Spirituality (e.g., religious vs. agnostic)
- Politics (e.g., liberal vs. conservative)
- Financial Management (e.g., saving vs. spending)
Where do Preferences Come From?
Generally, social psychologists believe preferences emerge from an interplay of biology, psychology, and social influences:
1. Biology (Innate Preferences)
We’re born with some preferences, which could include taste for food, romantic attraction to one gender or the other, love languages, etc. Some of these – such as the taste for certain high-sugar foods – can be explained by evolutionary processes, where the taste for sugar may have helped them survive when it was one of the highest-energy food available to our forager ancestors!
Social psychologists have identified a range of psychological factors that affect our preferences. For example, many studies have found that humans tend to experience a phenomenon called in-group bias, where we tend to prefer people and things that are comfortable and well-known to us. Similarly, there’s a concept known as beauty bias, where some people prefer things and people who appear beautiful to them. For a full list of biases and heuristics that shape our perception, see my article on types of bias.
3. Society and Culture
The influential people around us, starting with out parents, socialize us into having certain preferences which we internalize throughout our lives. This is why we often end up following the same football team as our grandfather or having the same taste in food as our parent who cooks for us each night. As we get older and experience more things, new friends and experiences will help inform our evolving preferences and beliefs.
It is natural and desirable to have preferences, but we need to also be aware of the origins of them. If our preferences are based on flawed logic or prejudice, it might be worthwhile to keep an open mind. Similarly, if we start giving humans preferential treatment, we may be engaging in discrimination.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]