Saturday 29 June 2013

Barry Schwartz: The paradox of choice

Psychologist Barry Schwartz takes aim at a central tenet of western societies: freedom of choice. In Schwartz's estimation, choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied.

Wikipedia: The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less
The Paradox of Choice - Why More Is Less is a 2004 book by American psychologist Barry Schwartz. In the book, Schwartz argues that eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety for shoppers.

Autonomy and Freedom of choice are critical to our well being, and choice is critical to freedom and autonomy. Nonetheless, though modern Americans have more choice than any group of people ever has before, and thus, presumably, more freedom and autonomy, we don't seem to be benefiting from it psychologically.
-quoted from Ch.5, The Paradox of Choice, 2004

Barry Schwartz's thesis
Schwartz assembles his argument from a variety of fields of modern psychology that study how happiness is affected by success or failure of goal achievement.

Attempts to duplicate the paradox of choice in other studies have had mixed success. A meta-analysis incorporating research from 50 independent studies found no meaningful connection between choice and anxiety, but speculated that the variance in the studies left open the possibility that choice overload could be tied to certain highly specific and as yet poorly understood pre-conditions.

Final Word
"The secret to happiness is low expectations." Mr. Schwartz punctuates his statement with a cartoon by Michael Crawford. It shows the bride and groom standing in front of the minister and the guy turns to his blushing bride and says, "You'll do." Ha ha ha. As Mr. Schwartz suggests, sometimes we need to settle?


Uploaded on Jan 16, 2007 by TEDtalksDirector

Wikipedia: Barry Schwartz
Barry Schwartz (born 1946) is an American psychologist. Schwartz is the Dorwin Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action at Swarthmore College. He frequently publishes editorials in the New York Times applying his research in psychology to current events.

Amazon: The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less
In the spirit of Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, a social critique of our obsession with choice, and how it contributes to anxiety, dissatisfaction and regret. This paperback includes a new P.S. section with author interviews, insights, features, suggested readings, and more.

Whether we’re buying a pair of jeans, ordering a cup of coffee, selecting a long-distance carrier, applying to college, choosing a doctor, or setting up a 401(k), everyday decisions--both big and small--have become increasingly complex due to the overwhelming abundance of choice with which we are presented.

We assume that more choice means better options and greater satisfaction. But beware of excessive choice: choice overload can make you question the decisions you make before you even make them, it can set you up for unrealistically high expectations, and it can make you blame yourself for any and all failures. In the long run, this can lead to decision-making paralysis, anxiety, and perpetual stress. And, in a culture that tells us that there is no excuse for falling short of perfection when your options are limitless, too much choice can lead to clinical depression.

In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz explains at what point choice--the hallmark of individual freedom and self-determination that we so cherish--becomes detrimental to our psychological and emotional well-being. In accessible, engaging, and anecdotal prose, Schwartz shows how the dramatic explosion in choice--from the mundane to the profound challenges of balancing career, family, and individual needs--has paradoxically become a problem instead of a solution. Schwartz also shows how our obsession with choice encourages us to seek that which makes us feel worse.

By synthesizing current research in the social sciences, Schwartz makes the counterintuitive case that eliminating choices can greatly reduce the stress, anxiety, and busyness of our lives. He offers eleven practical steps on how to limit choices to a manageable number, have the discipline to focus on the important ones and ignore the rest, and ultimately derive greater satisfaction from the choices you have to make.

Journal of Consumer Research 37: 409–425
Can There Ever be Too Many Options? A Meta-Analytic Review of Choice Overload
Scheibehenne, Benjamin; Greifeneder, R. & Todd, P. M. (2010)
Although strong instances of choice overload have been reported in the past, direct replications and the results of our meta-analysis indicated that adverse effects due to an increase in the number of choice options are not very robust: The overall effect size in the meta-analysis was virtually zero.
In summary, we could identify a number of potentially important preconditions for choice overload to occur, but on the basis of the data on hand, we could not reliably identify sufficient conditions that explain when and why an increase in assortment size will decrease satisfaction, preference strength, or the motivation to choose. This might account for why some researchers have repeatedly failed to replicate the results of earlier studies that reported such effects.

* An odd thought. The cartoon by Michael Crawford might have been funnier if it was the bride saying to the groom, "You'll do."


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