The More Choices You Have, The Less Happy You Are

For a 2000 study led by psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper, researchers put out two different jam displays in a supermarket, each on different days. On the first day, shoppers saw 24 different jams on the table; on the second, they saw only six. Though more shoppers sampled jam at the larger display, the final sales told a different story: people who saw the large display were one-tenth as likely to buy jam as those who saw the small one. This study demonstrated what became known as the "paradox of choice," the contrarian phenomenon that makes our satisfaction decrease as our number of options increase, even while we think more choice is what we really want.

It should be noted, however, that this phenomenon doesn't play out in every scenario. For example, other studies have found something called "single option aversion," where customers faced with two choices are more likely to buy one than if there's just a single product. How choices are categorized also makes a difference in how much "choice paralysis" we experience. Still, the anxiety people feel over too much choice is a very real phenomenon in the right circumstances, as many studies have shown: there are examples of how employees faced with a wide variety of retirement plans are less likely to participate in one at all, and accounts of companies trying to save money by discontinuing products in certain categories that have inexplicably boosted sales in the process. We've collected some awesome videos on this topic. Watch them now to learn more.

Key Facts In This Video

  1. Psychologists have observed that overwhelming choice creates the feeling of anxiety. It also pacifies people by freezing them in a state of indecisiveness. 00:55

  2. Choices provoke anxiety for a few reasons. 02:31

  3. Self-criticism and anxiety over your choices are reasons that the ideology of choice can actually prevent social change. 08:50

Written by Ashley Hamer July 11, 2016

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