Barry Schwartz | The Paradox Of Choice : Why More is Less


Barry Schwartz, author of “Why More is Less?, an excellent book, is a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College, and lecturer Gel 2005.

Q – What is the “paradox of choice”?

Everyone agrees that having a choice is better than no choice. It seems clear that if having a choice is good, then have more options the better. The paradox is that this “evidence” is not really true. It is that there comes a point where more choices, people feel worse.

People can not ignore options – have to lend them attention. If you make a choice, would it have been a better choice? There is more effort in making decisions, and less in the enjoyment of them. We doubt that, had they chosen otherwise could have obtained something better is.

I will tell you a story from my own experience. While on holiday in a small village on the coast of Oregon, I went to buy Cake for a dinner. I had to buy a cake in a shop that had only five varieties, and had to a chose one. It was not a great cake, but nobody cared – what are you going to wait when there are only five options? In Manhattan, there are hundreds option, so it’s reasonable to expect to find something almost perfect. But even if you can find one that is much better than any of the store of Oregon, at the end you stay disappointed – because your expectations have risen with so many options.

0060005696 The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less
Barry Schwartz

Q – What is the scope of the paradox of choice?

It is almost universal, and in more areas beyond the world of consumer goods. Just consider these options:  Where to go on vacation, where to put your retirement funds, which digital camera to buy, what to eat in the restaurant, in which restaurant to eat.  No, in affluent societies, an area in which the number of choices is not overwhelming. The only exception is the American electoral politics. This is another paradox. You can choose from a thousand varieties of orange juice, but only between two presidential candidates.It should not be.


Q – And besides consumer goods?

I teach talented students at Swarthmore. When approaching graduation, when they have to decide to be “higher” I look like a complete panic and paralysis than to many of them, because they realize that any choice you make closes in turn other doors they would like keep open. There is a lost opportunity associated with each decision. It is so difficult for some of them decide who spend years working at Starbucks, waiting for the answer appears.

Also in his personal life – they should marry now or later, have children now or later? None of these options were real when I was growing up. Not that there were elections – but the expectation was so clear that one could in fact be treated as absence of decisions. There was the question of whom to marry, but not whether or not married, and had children as soon as they could. This eliminated a tremendous amount of pressure.

Some social scientists say that one of the consequences of leaving options open is that people are less satisfied with their decisions, if a decision is irreversible, you force yourself to feel better about the choice you have made. But if it is a reversible option, do not do that. Do not return to the store to your romantic partner but just because you could do it, do not convince yourself that she is the love of your life.If people know that you can undo your choices, you get less satisfaction from them. People want to keep their options open.And that’s not the way to happiness.


Q – And not in retail?

If you provide options for sale in a shop or website, you might think that the way to attract people is to offer as many alternatives as possible. But you’re wrong. You will attract people, but will not buy as much as they would with a smaller number of options.


Q – How you should design a store?

No general answer except “limit choices” – though in what way depends on what you’re selling.

For example, commercial Web should be designed such that the complexity is hidden, so that people who really care about or know much, can find their way to the complexity, and the rest of us who do not want bothered to find it, we will not do it. This is how the Web sites and software stores and retail should be structured.

There are plenty of small shops in downtown Philadelphia where I live – stores that sell things that would not go together naturally – such as clothing and furniture.It is selling a certain aesthetic. How a small furniture store to sell works? A couple of things are put in the window and then offered one million items in the catalog. But just do not feel overwhelmed when you walk into the store, I’m in an environment where I can manage and negotiate. If you like a sofa, you can tell the seller you care about, and ask if it comes in different colors and fabrics, the seller can run the catalog and then you can see the infinite number of sofas you can find. First you have been seduced into wanting a sofa by what appears to be a simple decision.This is the right way to design things in the modern world, where everything is too complex.


Q – I know you are interested in having a major to try an experiment in the main commercial Web.

Yes, to illustrate my general opinion. Look at any of the most successful commercial web sites –, for example – and see what they offer. Click Bestsellers;  and they appear 20. My opinion is, when people look at 20 titles, each is competing with others, making them less attractive. This seems exciting, this seems educational, this is about my own childhood, but this is about an exotic country and take me to a world of imagination. Each has its own appeal.

The result is that you look 20 and not buy any. But what if Amazon did a simple experiment appeared not 20 books but only the first five? You can always click and move to the next screen to see more. I predict that if the choice is reduce the number of books sold is increased. This should be true for anything you sell office-chairs, CD players, vacation packages, the shorter the list, the more attractive will be the elements of the list.

The counterargument is that we are a diverse society with different tastes, and if you present a list of five options, many people do not want any of them. But with 20, it is more likely to reach the interest of almost everyone. There is some truth in that. But if you end up not really convince people to buy, because they are in conflict or doubt, then you have not achieved the goal of making the sale.

I think at least worth trying the experiment to see if the reduction it offers a site, but removes some people, might convince many others to buy. If I’m wrong, since it is already, but there are good reasons to think that I’m not.


Q – To what extent to carry before ending the experiment offering, to quote Henry Ford’s “any color as long as it’s black”?

No definite answer depends on the domain. People may resent the restrictions of choice more easily in some areas of life than others. We can only learn by experimentation.I think in the range from six to twelve options is where most people would be comfortable most of the time. But we have to do research on specific sites, in places where people choose and buy.


Q – Speaking of Henry Ford, how do you decide which car to buy last time?

I bought it on the Web. I went to a website, where he said “there is no negotiation, this is our money” – and bought a car in ten minutes. But I’ve driven a Toyota Camry since 1984 and this is the third one I have. I had no problem with my first and second Camrys. So, why am I going to buy anything other than a Camry?This made it easy. The only decisionthen, was the color. My answer was (a) I do not care, and (b) I am colorblind. So I decided my wife. I am only concerned about two things, that is safe and will not break. Other people go crazy trying to find every possible thing to have in the car they buy.


Q – What can customers do to avoid the paradox of choice?

What is most important is learning that “good enough is good enough”. It is what I call “satisfactory” in the book. You do not need the best, probably you never need it. Rarely, worth fighting to find the best. But overall life easier done if you stick with “good enough”. You do not have to do an exhaustive search – only until you find something that fits your standards, which could be high. But the only way to find it is best to look at all the possibilities. And then you end up giving up, or if you choose one, you bother the possibility that you could have found something better.

We have evidence, certainly. People who are trying to find better jobs (“maximizers”) feel worse than those who are satisfied with good enough. We have observed during and after college. A maximizers fared better financially – found starting salaries of up to $ 7,000 more than satisfactory. But in any measure – depression, stress, anxiety, satisfaction with their work – maximizers felt worse.


Lesson number two

Learn when to choose. Sometimes. Sometimes no choice. Buy what your friend tells you, or consumer report or guide Uncle Mark, who tells you what to buy. It would be nice if everyone had a friend like Uncle Mark. No need to follow their advice about everything – only some things, and you would not have to choose all the time.


Lesson number three 

Compare what you’re doing with other people who are doing less. Some people, no matter how good their results are compared with people who do it best. Do not. Instead, create the habit of looking at you appreciate your decisions rather than what you’re disappointed. It is almost obvious, so obvious, but is that people do not often make. Most people just need practice. In my book, I mention an exercise that you can do every day: at the end of the day in a notebook you have in the nightstand, write two or three things you are grateful. Little things: a good newspaper article. The wonderful pasta dinner.

Your wife was especially attractive with the costume has been to go to work. Over time, people start to find things to be thankful moreoften, and go through life happier, more energetic, and better social relationships. It does not take much to transform the orientation of the people, just pay attention to what went right that day. So when you make decisions, good it will highlight, how disappointing will become less prominent, and will be more satisfied with the decisions taken.


Lesson number four

Arbitrarily limit the number of options that you are considering. If your friend does not select a digital camera for you, then promise yourself to yourself that you will look at only two websites and then you will stop searching and take a decision, or will buy the best choice in a store. Simply not worth looking at each store, each Web site. With practice, people stop thinking trouble themselves if they had looked for somewhere else would have done better. Instead, give people more time for the things that are really important, they are not what digital camera to buy.