Mandy Kloppers

The Paradox of Choice

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The Paradox of choice

it may seem that having a lot of choice is a good thing. However research has shown that having too much choice can overwhelm us and results in lower levels of happiness. Think of it this way, if you lived in a small town where there was only one liquor store, you would be very pleased with their top of the range red wine. as it is a small store, you would probably get a choice of perhaps a dozen different types of red wine.

Now imagine living in a large city, where there may be several large liquor stores. Suddenly the idea of bagging yourself a good quality red wine diminishes dramatically. In each of the large liquor stores, there will probably be many different types of red wine to choose from. The psychological impact of this much choice leaves us feeling concerned that we are missing out. The wine that we have purchased might even be the same bottle of red wine purchased at the liquor store in the small town but when put into context, it doesn’t seem like such a good deal any more. What if there is a better bottle that we have overlooked?

Of course it isn’t just about how much choice we have, our personality style is also relevant. In his book, “The Paradox of choice”, by Barry Schwartz, he talks about two types of personalities. “Maximisers” and “Satisficers”. A maximiser will experience more angst compared to a satisficer. Maximisers are constantly on the lookout for bigger and better deals in life. They constantly live with the idea that they are missing out or are unaware of better offers out there.This relates to products, situations and people. Satisficers on the other hand, tend to be happier with what they have. They also tended to be happier than maximisers.

Too much choice can lead to chronic indecision and unhappiness. The “jam study” is a good example of how choice affects us:

When researchers set up (in a gourmet food store) a display of high quality jams, customers were able to taste samples and were given a coupon for a dollar off if they bought a jar. In one condition of the study, six varieties of the jam were available for tasting. In another, 24 varieties were available. In both cases, the entire set of 24 varieties was available for purchase. Their large array of jams attracted more people to the table than the small array, though in both cases people tasted about the same number of jams on average.

When it came to buying however, a huge difference became evident. Thirty percent of the people exposed to the small array actually bought a jar, only 3% of those exposed to the large array of jams did so. One important consideration is the distinction between choice and complexity. In a society where time is of the essence, people tend to steer clear of confusing and complex choices. Choice can be a good thing with simple and clear objectives.


Mandy X

Photo by Mauropm

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