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Science

Is Too Much Choice Stressing Us Out? (theguardian.com) 358

An anonymous reader writes: In the decades following World War 2, there was a dramatic expansion in choices for consumers. Where before there were only a few brands of bread, now there were dozens. Marketers were relentless in trying to fill every niche, to capture every last market segment. But in the 1990s and 2000s, we started to realize that this wasn't inherently a good thing. Choice paralysis demonstrably exists. It's made us start asking questions like: do we really need 30 types of jam on a store shelf? Is there a good reason for a firm to offer over 150 different pension plans? It turns out, no. Employees are much less likely to actually choose a plan when confronted with so many. In worrying about finding the best choice, they accidentally pick what is by far the worst: nothing. Barry Schwartz, a psychologist who helped bring this idea to the fore, has been advocating for less choice, and offers this suggestion: "The secret to happiness is low expectations."
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Is Too Much Choice Stressing Us Out?

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  • Capitalism (Score:5, Funny)

    by Stuarticus ( 1205322 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @08:30AM (#50786567)
    Relentless growth relies on a large subset of the buying public being able to make poor decisions on what to buy, then having to replace that item shortly thereafter. This choice reduction seems like some commie nonsense to me.
    • Re:Capitalism (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Impy the Impiuos Imp ( 442658 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @08:58AM (#50786711) Journal

      The poor choices large subsets have made on behalf of everyone unfortunatly have included communism in the past, leading to just one brand of bread, available for just an 8 hour wait in a city block length line.

      • China and the Soviet Union are not, were not and never were Communist. They were fascist dictatorships that happen to borrow rhetoric from popularists like Karl Marx. Jeez, it's 2015. Do we still believe in McCarthyism? Maybe if it weighed the same as a duck...
        • by GLMDesigns ( 2044134 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @10:29AM (#50787349)
          Keep believing your rhetoric. The communist ideal will never occur by the rule of law. You can have your communist utopia but not if you have to FORCE others to live by your ideals. As not all people want to live in such a system you have two choices: do as China and Russia did and try to force others to obey (create a homo sovieticus); or have a community of like-minded people and not be coercive in your approach. (In other words you don't use laws to institute your ideal world).

          Should you force others to follow you then you will once again create the fascist dictatorship that you think has nothing to do with communism.
          • You're right (Score:5, Interesting)

            by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @10:54AM (#50787545)
            Communism doesn't work. It involves a large scale transfer of ownership of the means of production to the working class, and it's been shown that in the battle between the military and ruling class that ensues when you try to do that it all falls apart.

            This folks is why I'm a Democratic Socialist. You can live however the heck you want so long as you're not causing pain and suffering to others. Trouble is the 1% will _always_ cause pain and suffering, because as you and I are diminished they are raised. It really is a Zero sum game, but for social status and political power rather than raw economics.

            Nice talking points you got there though. Did you get 'em from Rush Limbaugh? You know he just got 'em from Karl Rove right?
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by dunkelfalke ( 91624 )

            Actually, even officially, USSR never was communist. They have considered themselves socialist with communism being a long-term goal (because even Marx basically stated that communism is only possible in a post-scarcity society).

          • You can believe that you can force people to follow your communist ideology (like we in America force people not to violate patents) while not thinking that it will necessarily result in a fascist dictatorship. You can also believe that fascist dictators called themselves communist for PR purposes. There's no real conflict there.

            Now, you may want to pick on his specific examples. But he never made a generalized claim, but rather a claim about China and Russia^H^H^H^H^H^H the USSR. And, if you want to h

    • by Errol backfiring ( 1280012 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @09:07AM (#50786773) Journal
      It is not the amount of choice that is freaking us out, it is the amount of effort to get to know what the choice actually is and how to get it. Especially due to capitalism, full products are deliberately crippled to plunder the customers. Nowadays, you can have a full-time job managing a company's software licenses. And the bigger the manufacturer, the less sense the license model has.
      • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

        The choice between strawberry or raspberry jam isn't stressing, it's good that it exists.

        What's stressful is to make choices that can have a severe economic impact - especially when pushed to to the choices with a short time limit, which often telemarketers play on.

    • by nucrash ( 549705 )

      On the contrary, there was an article about companies like ImBev who were trying to use vertical integration to reduce the amount of choices a customer had in order to sell additional beer. They saw it as the fact that if customers had less to select from, then they would buy more. Then again, these are monopolistic practices.

      I disagree with this on some measure. There are some items which sell more than others and really wish shelving space would address these needs especially in the food industry.

      Yet

    • Try capitalism at work - corporations buying each other up to form monopolies.
  • Choice paralysis (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @08:33AM (#50786583) Journal
    I've noticed this when presenting too many options to a customer for a solution to a dilemma.

    Often, it seems what they really need is an informed third party to assist them in whittling down their options to a manageable choice threshold.

    Looking at you America: 30 types of jam, 60 fragrances of febreze, and still two political parties... See? They're keeping it simple for us.

    • Re:Choice paralysis (Score:4, Interesting)

      by The-Ixian ( 168184 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @09:02AM (#50786745)

      At my place of employment we use what we call an executive summary.

      This summary lays out 3 options maximum even if there are many more.

      If the customer wants to then discuss and make changes, we are happy to go into the weeds at that point.

      We have learned that decision makers are generally not very good at decision making and less options lead to a sale more often.

      • At my place of employment we use what we call an executive summary.

        This summary lays out 3 options maximum even if there are many more.

        Is that because the executives can only count to three?

    • by Xest ( 935314 )

      "I've noticed this when presenting too many options to a customer for a solution to a dilemma."

      Yes, not just customers, but even colleagues. I learnt this long ago in IT and development, if there are multiple compromise solutions to a problem that a decision maker needs to give the go ahead and sign off to on solving, then just present them with the single one that most suits you or that you feel best suits the business. Only offer alternatives if asked, otherwise you're just asking for pointless meetings,

    • ...and the final quote: "The secret to happiness is low expectations." explains the reason behind most recent changes to school education.
    • by metlin ( 258108 )

      Two political parties are a sign of a mature democracy.

      Look up Anthony Down's median voter theorem [wikipedia.org].

      • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )

        Two political parties are a sign of a mature democracy.

        Look up Anthony Down's median voter theorem [wikipedia.org].

        I wouldn't call it a sign of a mature democracy(in fact, in that article, "democracy" only shows up in book/article titles). Two political parties is instead the ultimate result of a "first past the post" system. It is assumed that the 2 parties will centralize themselves in order to garner as much support as possible. Unfortunately with the way primaries work in the US, it seems that our 2 parties seems to gravitate towards the fringes of their respective party as those are the ones who control the primar

  • by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @08:35AM (#50786591)

    Whenever we don't have many choice, for example: High Speed Internet and Cable TV, is a virtual monopoly or duopoly.

    We get gouged on pricing, and shoddy service.

    • The idea is that there is an optimum amount of choice: we definitely need choices, but there is such a thing as too much choice. This shouldn't be a surprise: there's an optimal amount of everything, and the optimal amount is usually finite.

      So yes, we need more choices in high speed internet. That doesn't mean that it's impossible to have too many choices; it's just hard to imagine since we're used to having too few.

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        The problem isn't choices, it's confusing choices. Like when just one competitor has 10 'plans' with a dizzying array of rules and service levels (each with nasty gotchas) and the other competitors each have their own dizzying array and none of the advertising compares apples to apples.

  • by HalAtWork ( 926717 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @08:35AM (#50786595)
    And then you develop what's called a "preference". There's also this social thing called "word of mouth" that you can use to communicate benefits. Also, stores/shops usually carry a selection, not a complete catalog of everything on the planet.

    Choice is good, and the good news is you're not locked in. If you don't like it, you can try again the next time, and maybe even get a reimbursement from a quality guarantee, many products have this. If you just don't have the time to get informed and need to make a rush decision, there are even many review sites that offer a meta score and you can just pick something from the top of the list and get a quick bluirb that will give you a bearing.

    Or just go with your gut.
    • Yeah, I think that what most people lack is patience.

      I love having a ton of selection when it comes to consumables like food. I will select something different every time I go to the grocery or liquor store.

      When buying stuff like computers though, it can be a hassle because I have to actually put thought and research time into it. :)

    • If you only make a single choice (and then simply stick with the choice), then your choice is basically arbitrary and defeats the purpose of having a wide variety of options. That's one of the arguments in the article: more choices aren't always better.

      Word of mouth is also useless if others are making arbitrary choices and then simply sticking with them. It reminds me of a comic's (forget who) routine about getting advice on traveling. People who had been to a city once and only eaten at one restaurant wou

      • Really? Most people have criteria in mind before they even see the product, some more important such as price, some less so like shape and color. This already pares it down somewhat. And yes, when it comes down to similar products, the choice is somewhat arbitrary because the differences at that level are very minute and often arbitrary themselves, just dressing.

        Of course initially there is no baseline, if you choose not to consult your friends and neighbors, and have never been over and tried these produc
        • To add to this, I believe what you're mostly referring to is settling, as if somehow your initial choice is the only time you ever get to make a selection. This is about the concept of making an initial choice and feeling overwhelmed in doing so. This feeling of being overwhelmed will go away in most cases if you just realize your initial choice doesn't lock you in. You can try something else next time, and if it doesn't work out with your first choice you can try again, and even pass on your first choice t
      • If you only make a single choice (and then simply stick with the choice), then your choice is basically arbitrary and defeats the purpose of having a wide variety of options. That's one of the arguments in the article: more choices aren't always better.

        Word of mouth is also useless if others are making arbitrary choices and then simply sticking with them. It reminds me of a comic's (forget who) routine about getting advice on traveling. People who had been to a city once and only eaten at one restaurant would heartily recommend the restaurant even though they had no baseline for comparison. ("Yeah, I know this great restaurant in Toledo!")

        Now, maybe you're making the argument that you only have to go through the process of choosing once (which will involve testing more than one selection), but few people do that. Mostly, they do what they decide above and just try a variety or two, say meh, and arbitrarily stick with their choice. How many varieties of peanut butter have most people tried? I'm guessing that mostly people have tried a smooth and a chunky (and maybe a natural), but I doubt many people have really compared brands. Why do "choosy moms choose JIF"? (Their advertising slogan.) Because moms have enough shit to do, so at one point in the past, they grabbed a jar of JIF and then just keep getting it because why not?

        Arbitrary choices are not a good solution.

        And a world with only JIF as opposed to other brands would be better... How? If you really are overwhelmed with options, go ahead, make an arbitrary selection and stick with it if you like it. You don't have to participate in it. As someone who likes everything " just so" however, I highly appreciate the ability to buy from a large number of brands in order to achieve a favorite taste. You have nothing to lose with a colorful and diverse selection, as people would just wind up with the same choices they'd m

  • by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @08:36AM (#50786597)

    Personally, I can get by just fine with three choices in jam.

    Most everyone I know can manage with three to four choices in jam.

    But they're not the SAME three to four choices!

    So by the time your grocery is stocking everyone's three to four choices, it has 100 or so different things on the shelf.

    Ditto bread, meat, veggies, soap, shampoo, etc.

    IOW, a large number of choices isn't a bad thing. Unless you're just too stupid to be allowed to make choices in the first place....

    • I remember reading something like this and jam was one of the examples given.

      It was in The Economist, I think. About five years ago.

    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

      And it doesn't really matter if you have 33 choices of jam, it's not stressing, it's actually a relief.

      The stressful choices are when you must pick one of a number of alternatives in a limited timeframe - which way shall I drive to work, where shall I park my car when shopping etc. Things where you don't have full control.

    • But they're not the SAME three to four choices! So by the time your grocery is stocking everyone's three to four choices, it has 100 or so different things on the shelf.

      Have you really tried all 100 typed of jam and optimized to just 3-4? Have the other jam shoppers?

      It's indisputable that there are too many choice of jelly, because some are basically identical jellies with different labels. Smucker's grape jelly/slime is functionally identical to the store brand grape jelly/slime. Hell, maybe they're even made in the same place. I've found the same with a variety of jams, jellies, and fruit preserves. A grocery store I often go to started carrying a (surprisingly good) sto

      • Keep in mind that within a specific product category, there are going to be various features that you may prefer. In the product category or jams or jellies, you indicated that you don't like jellies. Well, that cuts a big portion of those "redundant" products out, right? Do you like seeds or seedless? What flavor: strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, or something else? How about product size - large or small? Glass jar or squeezable plastic bottle?

        When you've narrowed things down like that,

  • Big difference. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by khasim ( 1285 ) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Friday October 23, 2015 @08:36AM (#50786601)

    There is a HUGE difference between "30 types of jam" and "over 150 different pension plans".

    At the most basic level, you will know that you picked the "wrong" jam in the near future and still be able to get a different one.

    With a pension plan you won't really know until it is too late and you won't have any option.

    Which is why most of us do NOT have a problem picking up a loaf of bread and a jar of jam.

    • you will know that you picked the "wrong" jam in the near future and still be able to get a different one... Which is why most of us do NOT have a problem picking up a loaf of bread and a jar of jam.

      But many people DO have trouble picking a jar of jam. From TFA:

      In one study cited by Schwartz, researchers set up two displays of jams at a gourmet food store for customers to try samples, who were given a coupon for a dollar off if they bought a jar. In one display there were six jams, in the other 24: 30% of people exposed to the smaller selection bought a jam, but only 3% of those exposed to the larger selection did.

      I think part of the problem is confusing "not wrong" and "optimized". Yes, you know when you dislike a jam, but excluding bad jams doesn't mean you've optimized your choice. Most people probably find a few jams that "aren't bad" and stick with them (sampling only a few jams along the way), which defeats the purpose of having 30 types of jam: if the selection were 15 types of jam, then you'd still find a few jams that "aren't bad" and you'd be in

      • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

        > But many people DO have trouble picking a jar of jam. From TFA:

        These are also probably the same nitwits that cant use an iPad without on-site technical support. This should not be a race to the bottom to pander to the biggest MORONS in society. Society is enough of an idiocracy as is.

        Restricting the choice of Jams makes it all sound so benign but it can be really quite sinister. Just ask any Soviet ex-pat, or better yet ask them to smile for you.

  • Well, duh. This is kind of the entire design philosophy of Apple: a few understandable choices, not endless suggestions. It is the foundation-stone of thousands of flamewars on Slashdot about this approach vs providing more options for power-users.

    • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @09:21AM (#50786879) Homepage

      I think that this is the main reason that Apple is doing so well. People understand exactly what they are getting when they choose an Apple product. You want a phone, You get to choose from 1 of 2 screen sizes, and 3-4 options for the amount of storage. That's a very easy decision to make. Same goes for their laptops. You get to choose ultra-thin or regular, then you get a few different options for screen size, and then you get 2 or 3 options that actually affect performance. Compare this to going to Dell, Lenovo, or HP. Whereas Apple might give you 10 options in total. The other guys will have 50 or more options to choose from.

      Don't believe it's really that many, I just went to Dell's site. they have 3 lines for home use, without even getting into chrome books, they are Inspiron, XPS, and Alienware.

      Inspiron has 3000, 5000, and 7000 series. Each of those has 4 different screen sizes. Each of those 4 screen sizes has on average 3 different performance/spec options. So, just from the Inspiron line, we have 3x4x3 options to choose from. That's 36 options. Alienware is a little more sane at only 16 options total, and XPS has 8 additional options.

      That's a total of 60 options. And that's only looking at the "home" oriented laptops. I didn't dig down, but from the looks of it, there's even more choice in there. There is probably at least over 100 laptops to choose from when getting a Dell.

      • Correct. So the kind of little Nestor who fears being different can buy this year's Apple laptop and not worry about making the grave mistake of buying the "wrong" computer and facing the scorn of his social peers. There is even a feeling of membership in owning the Apple e-meter. To do otherwise would risk having the label "unmutual" cast upon one.

  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @08:38AM (#50786611)

    ...In worrying about finding the best choice, they accidentally pick what is by far the worst: nothing....

    What is "accidental" and "worst" about picking nothing. To me that means that the person didn't really want/need the item in the first place, and the plethora of choices led the person to make the correct choice, ie., nothing.

    • What is "accidental" and "worst" about picking nothing. To me that means that the person didn't really want/need the item in the first place, and the plethora of choices led the person to make the correct choice, ie., nothing.

      I think picking no retirement option is a sign of being overwhelmed, i.e., "choice paralysis," not a sign that, "after careful consideration, none of these 150 plans are mathematically better than not saving for retirement at all."

    • by RuffMasterD ( 3398975 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @09:00AM (#50786719)
      The sheer number of comments to this story stressed me so much that I couldn't decide where to spend my moderator points. So I left a comment here instead. You're welcome.
    • by Applehu Akbar ( 2968043 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @09:31AM (#50786951)

      I disagree also, based on observation: the worst consumer experiences most of us have are in situations where we have NO choice. Examples are airlines, cable service, and pharma.

  • The basic example argument here is that having a choice of 150 pension plans and not choosing any is bad?

    Except ... when the company providing those plans fails and takes all your money with it ... in which case, picking any plan BUT none, is a bad idea.

    Your pension plan example is a prime one for me to pick apart because of the shear number of companies that fail leaving their customers screwed out of large sums of money.

    Choice paralysis is not because there are too many choices, its because people don't g

    • The basic example argument here is that having a choice of 150 pension plans and not choosing any is bad?

      Except ... when the company providing those plans fails and takes all your money with it ... in which case, picking any plan BUT none, is a bad idea..

      There may be some rare instance where a company offers 150 universally bad options, but IME at least one is a simple match that goes into an index. Even if some crazy fund returns zero percent after fees, saving up principal is better than saving nothing for retirement.

      I think the general point of TFA is that on average holding other factors constant (and not the edge case of 150 ripoff-only principal-stealing options) it is a matter of people can't hold 150 options in their minds all at once for compar

  • Low expectations? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by HalAtWork ( 926717 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @08:42AM (#50786629)
    I have this friend that believes he'll never be disappointed if he just thinks the worst is going to happen at any given moment. Cynical as fuck but swears he is constantly pleasantly surprised. This just sounds like a fucked up way to live. Imagine the fear that must rule you if you need to go around expecting the lowest lows in order to be happy.

    I don't think low expectations are the way to go, personally. Maybe don't expect anything at all either way. Stop trying to predict and frame everything. Stop managing your expectations altogether and just live in the moment. Focus on what you're doing now and try to get the most out of it. If you're letting bad jam bring you down then you need to step back and calm down. Forget the jam and read a book or start a new hobby.
    • I have this friend that believes he'll never be disappointed if he just thinks the worst is going to happen at any given moment.

      So, he codes in Perl?

      (whispers 'sorry' from under table)

  • Small town life supports his argument. With fewer choices, you know them all well, don't worry you're missing options, and are reasonably certain no new options will appear after you make a decision. Result contentment.

    • Small town life supports his argument. With fewer choices, you know them all well, don't worry you're missing options, and are reasonably certain no new options will appear after you make a decision. Result contentment.

      This is an understandable viewpoint, there is a certain undeniable charm or quaintness to living in a small town away from all of the stress. However let's compare that to life in the city; hundreds of choices, in fact far too many for any single person to explore in just their own time on this planet. Don't dwell about the best course of action or panic about potential regrets before you've even done anything, just pick a direction and start running. Learn from your mistakes but don't ever get stuck in the

  • When I was kid in the 70s and 80s, there was regular shampoo. Or, if you had money, you could buy the expensive "Pantene" shampoo.

    Today, when you go to the store, they have an entire shelf dedicated to Pantene shampoos. The Pantene website lists no less than 25 different shampoos. Anti-breakage. Colour-preserve. Heat-shield. Sheer volume. Damage Detox Deep Cleanse Purifying Shampoo.

    The actual differences between the formulas must be soooo tiny. Maybe no difference at all.

    And then add another 15 2-in

  • This was my Mantra even before I was married, 30+ years ago. Take holidays. My wife has this Disney-esque image of how it will be. Mine is more like a bad, indie short. I am never disappointed or surprised.
    • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @09:01AM (#50786735)

      This was my Mantra even before I was married, 30+ years ago. Take holidays. My wife has this Disney-esque image of how it will be. Mine is more like a bad, indie short. I am never disappointed or surprised.

      I always say if you aim for the trees and miss, you have a lot less far to fall than if you aimed for the stars.

    • I don't know that low expectations are the key.

      This philosophy definitely works for movies but not for life in general.

      I think the way to go is not to assume things are going to go a particular way and just go with the flow....

      You must bend like a reed in the wind...

  • ...and as soon as I turned it on, I realized that I not only had 200 cable channels to chose before, but now I also have on demand content that would fill a lifetime in front of tv only for my top 3 genres. Then I remembered they have a great recommendation engine that will feed me the best of what I really like, giving me some comfort, and saving me that lifetime.

    Bottomline is: we shouldn't worry with too much choice - we should worry about the quality of the choices we have, and the quality of the choice

  • "The secret to happiness is low expectations."

    That should be a bumper sticker. O_o

  • by RogueyWon ( 735973 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @09:15AM (#50786829) Journal

    I think a big factor here is whether the choice relates to a luxury or a necessity. And to be clear, I'm going to stretch the definition of "necessity" slightly, to include things such as pension plans. In fact, the words "luxury" and "necessity" aren't really quite the right ones here, but I can't think of better ones.

    When it comes to necessities, what we generally want is security. We want to find something that works for us fairly quickly and to then have the mental security that comes from being able to stick with it. This is why so few people switch banks or utility providers, even though they could often save money by doing so. Being bombarded with options when buying something you need (rather than something you want) is stressful. You'll be likely to fixate more on the downsides of making the wrong choice rather than the upsides of making the right choice.

    When it comes to luxuries, on the other hand, we tend to like choice. If we can afford high end food products, we like to be able to choose from lots of different varieties. If we're buying a luxury car, we want to be able to pick and choose options. Having choices makes us excited about our shiny new purchase.

    The complicating factor here is that the line between necessities and luxuries isn't static and won't be the same for everybody. If you have a lot of disposable income, you will probably approach your food-shop as though you're shopping for luxuries. If you're struggling to make ends meet, you will be firmly in necessity mode (I've been in both camps).

    It's not even all about income. I can illustrate this with a comparison between myself and my mother. We both actually have fairly similar levels of disposable income, but our interests and priorities are very different.

    I'm a big PC user; I enjoy gaming on a high end PC. I bought a full new PC recently. Deciding I couldn't be bothered with a self-build this time, I looked around for UK-based vendors who would allow me to customise my build extensively before they put it together. I took time to do my research, picked out the case, the motherboard, the CPU, the RAM, the graphics card and all the rest. And yes, I quite enjoyed this. I chose the vendor I did largely because they offered me this degree of control, rather than an off the peg system.

    My mother, by contrast, does not like PCs. She needs one, but she doesn't like that fact and doesn't treat it as anything more than a tool. When her old laptop died and she needed a replacement, she found the degree of choice available first confusing and then infuriating. We eventually solved it after I looked around for 3 acceptable options and narrowed the choice down to those for her ("this one costs a bit more but has a bigger screen, that one costs a bit less but might be a bit slow to start up").

    Flip things around to the last time we bought new sofas; I spent an afternoon browsing online for something that was about the right size, reasonably cheap and not a horrible colour clash for my living room. My mother spent a month and a half of weekends walking around show-rooms and comparing textile samples.

    We each believe that the other is completely mad. But what it really comes down to is a value judgement over "luxury" vs "necessity" and how that impacts on your approach to choice.

  • Yes, it is absolutely true that too much choice is a problem. Apple's success is a clear example of this. They offer minimal choices. You are expected to take what they give you and not try to find just the right tweaks for you. It is a very delicate balance. We need expert engineers to make the best choices for us in many cases, but that quickly slides into corporations controlling individuals and customers rebel. If you really know better than the customers what is good for them, and they regularly
  • I like having 100s of choices as long as I have tool(s) to help me narrow down the choice and it is not some pain to compare the choices. At newegg for instance I can easily narrow down the choice of computer cases from over 1000 choices down to 20 or so based on what I want. At Amazon however i would never be able to accomplish that with such ease. I know in a lot of ways this is not the same as walking down an isle of 30 types of jam but in many aspects it is. I could easily narrow those 30 jams down to a

  • 30 years of outsourcing and declining wages is stressing us out. A race to the bottom where everybody takes a piece of you on the way down is stressing us out. Having to pick a breakfast cereal? Not so much. This doesn't even qualify as a "first world problem". Next question please.
  • Is it or isn't it? I don't want to choose just tell me what to believe!
  • It's not about having an abundance of choices. I find that none of the choices is what I want.

  • >> Barry Schwartz, a psychologist who helped bring this idea to the fore, has been advocating for less choice, and offers this suggestion: "The secret to happiness is low expectations."

    C'mon, "Barry" we know who you really are.

  • by King_TJ ( 85913 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @09:55AM (#50787123) Journal

    When you start talking about problems such as the company offering 100 pension plans? Your problem isn't that the employee has too many options/choices. The problem is that the company didn't do enough homework of their own to weed out the inferior options. When my employer tells me they made a certain selection for our healthcare provider, our life insurance provider, or anything else related to the benefits offered -- I assume they made an effort to find the best possible value for the dollar spent. Maybe they could have chosen better than they did, and maybe not. But the point is, they tried to apply a "filter" and make a sensible decision. (Why wouldn't you, since you want your benefits package to look attractive compared with your competition?)

    Every time we use the web, we're presented with literally hundreds of millions of "options" ... yet we're not overwhelmed to the point where we just give up trying to find content we need. That's because we have really powerful search engines like Google we use as part of the process. They act as our filters.

  • There is too many choices being offered, especially when it comes to Presidential candidates from a major party. Come on, guys. Get your act together.
  • You still have made a choice.

  • This is why freemarket capitalism fails so hard at so many things.

    If the requirement is that all people have to be intelligent, rational, self-interested actors who will

    Sorry, had to stop laughing for a moment there :)

    We don't have the TIME or the attention to do all the research. We can't inspect our own meat, or look up the chemical composition of stuff used in our workplaces that is just 'mysterious solvent' to us so that we can determine it's not a safe chemical exposure and seek other employment, thus

  • Future Shockshock (Alvin Toffler, 1970) observed that change is stressful, accelerating rapidly in our time, and sure to get worse.

    Get worse it has. Change continues to accelerate, fulfilling Toffler's predictions.

    John Brunner's excellent novel The Shockwave Rider (1975) puts it well:

    In the twentieth century one did not have to be a pontificating pundit to predict that success would breed success and the nations that first were lucky enough to combine massive material resources with advanced knowhow would

  • by hedley ( 8715 )

    This is one of the reasons Costco is successful. You let them 'curate' by picking a subset of items they like and can get a good discount on. It's very well known to them that the paralysis mentioned leads to a more stressful shopping experience for shoppers, less selection => less stress. If you don't like that model, there are other stores eager to help.

    H.

  • by smellsofbikes ( 890263 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @11:37AM (#50787891) Journal

    The Paradox Of Choice [amazon.com] is excellent. The most important point among a legion of somewhat unexpected findings is: people generally make choices either by optimizing and finding the best choice, or by setting a threshold and choosing the first option that exceeds that threshold. The people who generally use optimization strategies consistently make better choices than the people who set thresholds, but are consistently much less happy about both their choices and their lives. This appears to be because in the process of optimizing, they calculate the cost of all the choices they didn't make, in a sort of buyer's remorse, and that has a huge impact on their satisfaction with the choice they did make.
    He spends a lot of time talking about how you can make good choices and be happy about them. One of the main ways of doing this is figuring out ways to reduce the number of apparent choices you have, so that the cost of the paths not taken is lower.

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @12:50PM (#50788445) Homepage Journal

    If I walk into the gourmet grocery store and see they stock 30+ kinds of jam, I'm happy. I know that I don't like marmalade in general, but I do like whiskey marmalade; so when I see blood orange whiskey marmalade I'll give it a try. If it proves to be a bad choice, it's no big deal.

    I'd say satisfaction with choice is mostly a function of the effort you need to make what you feel is a good enough choice. If you walk into the optician and you already know you want black plastic wayfarer frames with rivets at the temple, then you're glad that they've got enough of a selection to stock the Classic Nerd line. If you have no idea what you want on your face then you'd be happier with a store that offered you a choice of two or three frames. In fact if you study what a successful clerk in an optical megastore does, she (usually) steers you toward only two or three frames out of the scores of styles they offer.

    Contrast selecting from 30+ jams with selecting from 30+ health plans, where the best choice depends on the unknowable (how unlucky will I be this year?), the difficult to know (what is my likelihood of using each of these particular healthcare services?) and the need-an-expert-to-know-for-you (what do all these provisos in the small print mean?).

    Years ago I worked as lead developer for a small company developing a vertical market app in an industry that had never been automated before (then a very common scenario). The boss had a simple and seemingly fool-proof marketing scheme, based on commonsense psychology: to maximize sales volume he'd keep prices surprisingly low and to entice buyers he'd give them lots of options for how to configure the system exactly for their needs. Since this was a small company I often went to industry meetings to help out at the vendor booth, and I quickly realized that that commonsense psychology was at variance with actual psychology. People who were used to spending tens of thousands of dollars of equipment would find out that they could, in theory, get started with our software for as little as $200 and lose interest. People who didn't lose interest were quickly overwhelmed with the complexity of figuring out which items they needed to buy from the al la carte menu.

    So I proposed this change: combine all those choices into a single entry-level package that would cost a typical customer $10K - $20K, including all the options they'd be likely to use and all the services they'd need to get up and running. It took a year of financial struggle for the boss to decide he was willing to take a cut in sales volume for a boost in profit margins. But when we made the change sales volumes actually went up. People who used to walk by our $200 offering would ask why it was suddenly more expensive, and then I'd show them what they got for $10K but the decision would be simple: is this a good deal or not? And since it was a good deal a lot of them bought, and became good long-term customers for training, consulting services and data.

  • by LunaticTippy ( 872397 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @04:58PM (#50790317)
    One of my favorite stores has been doing this since before I was born. TJ's doesn't have many choices, but they tend to have stuff I like. They only have a single choice for many many items. It is generally a good price, good quality, and not a major brand.

    I really like it because I am not supporting all the stupid advertising, it saves me money, and I get to eat good stuff without wasting brain power on picking out which goddamn brand of peanut butter is least idiotic.

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