Choice conflict


I’m just reading a book about behavioural economics (Why smart people make big money mistakes — And how to correct them by Belsky & Gilovich), and a passage about “choice conflict” stuck with me.

They write about decision-making of customers when presented with more versus fewer choices. Interestingly, customers tended to buy fewer jam when presented with a larger variety of jams to taste beforehand (Which reminded me of the first time going into an American supermarket and almost getting a nervous breakdown over having to pick a box of breakfast cereal out of a whole aisle full of them). Fewer choices lead to faster decision-making.

Belsky and Gilovich write:

The more choice, in other words, the harder the choice. Such findings may seem like common sense, but their ramifications throughout society reverberate wide and deep. Indeed, we suspect that choice conflict is one of the reasons “progress” — defined in late twentieth-century America as the freedom to choose from an ever expanding selection of products, services, and opportunities — seems to engender as much angst as it does excitement. We may think we want nearly unlimited selections of televisions, or vacations, or jobs. But in some immeasurable way, this exploding freedom of choice raises its own discomfort and difficulties, particularly when choices are good and getting better. But enough contemplation on the impact of consumerism on  the meaning of life…”

In other words, choice conflict could provide an explanation for the stress experienced when our modern-day life is full of stuff and hectic activities..and explain the relief felt by many once they simplify. Leading a simpler life apparently matches our default settings, and can better the ability to make decisions.

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