Too much choice can be paralyzing: study
I have, usually when it comes to buying light bulbs at Canadian Tire or shampoo at Shoppers Drug Mart. Hundreds of shampoos and conditioners are for sale, one for every phenotype of hair: curly, straight, red, brown, dry, fine, and on and on. And that's just one brand.
Retail, however, is all about choice. The greater the variety of products, the better. Or so we're lead to believe.
Two U.S. researchers have found that choice may be what consumers want, but not what consumers need.
Their study, "Does Choice Mean Freedom and Well Being?" was published last month in the Journal of Consumer Research.
"Americans live in a political, social, and historical context that advances personal freedom, choice, and self-determination above all else," wrote Stanford University researcher Hazel Rose Markus and Swarthmore College researcher Barry Schwartz.
Their argument is that choice can actually be detrimental. And they use pretty strong language to say so.
People can become paralyzed by unlimited choice, and find less satisfaction with their decisions, they say. Choice can also foster a lack of empathy because it can focus people on their own preferences and on themselves at the expense of the preferences of others and of society as a whole.
"The enormous opportunity for growth and self-advancement that flows from unlimited freedom of choice may diminish rather than enhance subjective well-being," they wrote.
"Even in contexts where choice can foster freedom, empowerment, and independence, it is not an unalloyed good. Choice can also produce a numbing uncertainty, depression, and selfishness."