Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Paradox of Choice

Some interesting insight from psychologist Barry Schwarz. The title of this post is the title of his most recent book.

Click here for his TEDTalk (20 minutes but well worth your time).

He postulates that the level of choice available to a citizen of an industrial country such as ours works against our well-being (to say nothing of our society or our planet) His four main points:

1) Massive propagation of choice creates regret and anticipated regret. If you have more options for each choice in your life, the best you can ever hope for is good enough for what you want. We delete the idea of "pleasently surprised" because now we have enough options so that we should never expect to be disappointed. Goes with #3.

2) More choice means a preoccupation with missed opportunities (AKA opportunity costs). If you buy one product or marry one person or choose one career, you forfeit the other options available to you. The more options that you forfeit, the more things you have to compare to what you already chose. This lowers your satisfaction with what you have (grass is greener).

3) An increase of choice leads to an increase of expectation. If you have 5 different types of jeans to choose from, it's likely you'll be slightly disappointed. As such, you have realistic expectations about how the jeans will work for you. If, however, you have 100 choices, you expect to find the most perfect pair of jeans possible, even if they do not exist. You are tampering with your ability to be content with what you choose. The best you can get is now just good enough.

4) When you're offered a myriad choices and your expectations are high and you choose something that is less than satisfying, you experience self-blame. Before this massive push towards consumer choice, if you were dissatisfied, it was because the market did not cater directly to you. Now the burden falls on you; if you choose the wrong pair of jeans, what's wrong with you?

I did a fairly poor job of summarizing his talk. If any of this resonates with you, watch his talk. If you think this is a pile of crap, watch his talk. I'll end up referring back to this paradox of choice a lot in the future I imagine.

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