Freedom From Choice: Not What You Want


The journal Psychology and Marketing questions some recent academic research indicating that too much choice makes us unhappy and confused. The precis:

Consider the seminal paper by Iyengar and Lepper (pdf) that showed 30 per cent of participants offered a choice of 6 jams bought one, compared with just 3 per cent of participants offered 24 different jams. It seems we can be paralysed by having too much choice, perhaps because feeling you've made the wrong choice is unpleasant, and the more options there are, the more likely it is that we'll choose the wrong one.

But now Benjamin Scheibehenne and colleagues have waded into the topic with the claim that the "too-much-choice effect" has in fact failed to appear in many experiments, and with the real-life observation that shops that offer more consumer choice tend to be more successful.

In a series of experiments, Scheibehenne's team tested 598 participants who were asked to choose from among restaurants, charities and music downloads. Throughout, they varied factors that they hoped might explain why the too-much-choice effect sometimes occurs and sometimes doesn't…..

For most of the experiments, the too-much-choice effect wasn't actually observed and when it did, the only relevant factor which increased the effect was the need to justify one's choice.

"The fact that most of the variables that we tested were not sufficient to elicit choice overload suggests that the too-much-choice effect is less robust than previously thought," the researchers said.

Virginia Postrel gives you a variety of arguments to choose from as to why the "too much choice hurts us" arguments ignore vital insights about human variety, and personal psychology and responsibility, in her brilliant essay in Reason magazine's June 2005 issue.

[Link via Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution]