Are Too Many Options Bad For You?

Ever since I read Sidney Parnes’ The Magic of Your Mind more than twenty years ago, I have firmly believed that having more options is preferable to having fewer options. On the other hand, just about every time I go to the grocery store, I wish there were fewer choices. So I am conflicted: my training and belief system tell me the more options, the better; my experience, sometimes just the opposite.

Research now validates the conflict I experience.

Sheena Iyengar’s fascinating presentation, On the Art of Choosing, discusses the impact of culture on decision-making. One of her key research findings is that the American belief that more options are better than fewer is not universally held by all cultures: “Though all humans share the basic need and desire for choice, we don’t all see choice in the same places or to the same extent.”

I find this interesting but not surprising. What did surprise me is her assertion that even for Americans, having too many options can result in poorer decision-making: “When there are too many choices to compare and contrast, the process of choosing can be confusing and frustrating. Instead of making better choices, we become overwhelmed by choice, sometimes even afraid of it. Choice no longer offers opportunities but imposes constraints.” In fact, Iyengar’s research demonstrates that when you give people “ten or more options when they are making a choice, they make poor decisions.”

To view Iyengar’s full discussion of the impact of culture on decision-making, click below. If you wish to go directly to her dismantling of the assumption that the “more choices you have, the more likely you are to make the best choice,” fast forward to 8 minutes 10 seconds.

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  1. Sean Brady says

    RSAanimate presents Renata Salecl: How Limitless Choice Limits Social Change: