The paradox of choice

Barry Schwartz who wrote The Paradox of Choice believes that in affluent societies too much choice is detrimental to well-being. When there are a plethora of choices, whether it is beer, jeans, cellphones, salad dressing or mutual funds, people are much less satisfied with the choices they make. That’s if they actually make a choice, because a relatively large percentage of people become paralysed with indecision.

The reasons too much choice is bad

According to Schwartz there are four main reasons people are less satisfied with their choices.

Firstly, there is the regret of making the wrong choice, even when they have made a good decision.

Secondly, there is the perceived lost opportunity of not choosing the alternatives instead. If the alternatives had features and benefits that yours doesn’t have, you will feel you have lost an opportunity even if your choice is superior in other ways. This can lead to people buying different alternatives of the same basic design because they need to feel better about ‘covering-the-bases’.

Thirdly, with so much choice there is an escalation of expectations. It’s reasonable to think that if there are 200 choices, one of them must be perfect. People get disappointed because nothing is perfect.

Fourth, disappointed people blame themselves. The point is that if there is only one choice, you can’t blame yourself for making the wrong choice. 

Schwartz makes the point that if our choices are limitless we will never be satisfied. He goes even further to say that too much choice is harmful. Whilst some choice is probably better than no choice, too much choice can be worse. He believes that choice is a key cause of the escalation of depression and anxiety in our consumer economies. Schwartz believes people will be satisfied more when a  certain optimal limit of choices is made. He believes that if people with too much choice shared some of their choices with those people who have no choice then BOTH groups of people would be better off.