Edward's Reviews > The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less

The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz
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's review
Mar 23, 2008

really liked it

Really important book for me. Refers to some great research. Some highlights:

- “choice no longer liberates, but debilitates” -“choice overload”
- we’d be better off if we embraced some limits on choice instead of rebelling, by seeking “good enough” rather than the best, by lowering our expectations about our decisions, by making our decisions nonreversible, and by not comparing ourselves to others as much

I. When We Choose
1. Let’s Go Shopping
- 30% of people bought from the small sample of jams, only 3% bought from the large sample (those buying from small sample were more satisfied)
2. New Choices
- healthcare, beauty, religion
- 65% say they would choose own treatment if got cancer, but only 12% actually do this
- work is unconstrained by what your parents’ did or geography: a 34 YO has already worked for 9 companies
- in fact staying with a job doesn’t show loyalty, but a lack of ambition.

II. How We Choose
3. Deciding and Chooosing
- experienced, expected, and remembered utility rarely line up faithfully
- Kahneman et. al.’s remembering utility by “peak-end” rule (people preferred noise that ended less unpleasantly even though maximal unpleasantness lasted longer)
- people rated "colonoscopy plus" as less unpleasant than rival (even effected 5-year follow ups)
- James Twichell: “Ads are what we know about the world around us”.
- availability heuristic (we think there are more words that start with “t” than have it has 3rd letter)
- saliency: people are swayed by vivid video on how police are even when told it is atypical case
- people think accidents kill as many as diseases (though latter kill 16x more), homicide = strokes (latter kills 11x more); dramatic deaths overestimated (and this correlated with newspaper coverage).
- a chooser thinks about consequences, values, and can create choices or refuse to make any; a picker just hopes for the best

4. When Only the Best Will Do
- maximizers seek and accept only the best, which is a difficult decision strategy when there are many options; satisfacers are ok with “good enough”
- Herbert Simon (who coined the term) thought that satisfizing was the maximizing strategy
- maximizers savor the positive less and do not cope as well as satis., take longer to recover from bad stuff, are not as happy/satisfied with life, more pessimistic, more regret, and more depressed (extreme max. score=borderline clinical depression).
- “buyer’s remorse” diminishes satisfaction with choice made and can be anticipatory
- many choices+maximizing=unhappiness

III. Why We Suffer
5. Choice and Happiness
- “Choice is what enables us to tell the world who we are and what we care about”; has expressive value
- close social relations are most important for happiness (though decreases autonomy)
- the less barriers to autonomy we have, the more disturbing the remaining ones are
- income affects happiness only until people stop being poor (tested by looking at different countries at the same time and the same country at different times).
- happy people can attract others and being with others can make people happy
- it takes time for form close connections, to maintain them
- rules, standards, and routines can be good
- we are drawn to people who meet our standards, and than we stick with them out of routine (we don’t think about it everyday)

6. Missed Opportunities
- economics says we should only consider opportunity costs of next-best alternative (so if soccer costs $3 and bball is next best alternative, the total cost of soccer is $3 plus missing out on bball)
- participants chose the safer more expensive car, rather than the cheaper and more dangerous one regardless of price
- 75% of MD’s tried a med instead of referring to specialist, however 50% referred instead of choice of 2 meds (a way of avoiding a decision).
- negatives stand out more than positives
- neg. emotions makes for bad decisions and vice versa (candy made residents faster and more accurate diagnoses).
- students offered 6 topics more likely wrote essays & they were better than those offered 30 topics
- students exposed to 30 chocolates liked them less & would rather take $ instead more often than those exposed to 6
- people marry 5 years later than a generation ago, and people stay half as long at jobs
- evolution may have only prepared us to separate good from bad, not better from best (a ala Nozick)
- people want to be able to reverse decisions, however few do, and those that have the option are less satisfied (the former put more psychological work into making things OK)

7. The Problem of Regret
- postdecison (buyer’s reget makes things less enjoyable) and predecison (which can paralyze)
-bronze medalists are happier than silver medalists (near misses hurt more)
- people rarely say “things could be worse” (gratitude), they usually see how things could be better (can inspire) sunk costs: coaches also give more time to high paid players irrespective of performance

8. The Problem of Adaptation
- we get used to things and take them for granted and people don’t anticipate this
- 1973: 13% of Americans thought AC in cars was a necessity, today: 41%.
- lottery winners not more happier and accident victims were still pretty happy
-adaptation can be good in a world of misery
- hedonic and satisfaction treadmills

9. Why Everything Suffers from Comparison
- comparisons to: what you hoped/expected, other experiences, other people’s experiences
- “the curse of discernment”
- poor teens talked about benefits of internet, rich teens talked about drawbacks
- upward comparisons to others is bad a lot (though can inspire), downward comparisons can boost self-esteem, increase positive mood, and reduce anxiety
- when cancer patients encountered other cancer patients in good shape they felt better
- only compare to people in our “pond” where we have good chances of being successful (this was necessarily the case before)
- most respondants choose better relative position over absolute position with IQs
- happy people were minimally affected by other’s skill at the anagram task, they were not affected by feedback given to their partner (unlike unhappy people); the former can distract & move on, the latter ruminate (all this pertains to maximizers vs. satisfisers as well which is paradoxical as “the best” should be independent of how others are doing)

10. Choice, Disappointment, and Depression
- Seligman: you’ll get depressed at failure/loss of control that is attributed in a personal, persistent, and pervasive way (as opposed to global, transient, and specific attribution); “optimists” do the latter with failure and the former with success, “pessimists” do the opposite
- suicide is second leading cause of death (after accidents) among US High School and College students; rate among College students has tripled in last 35 years
- it matters if failure is our fault (Americans buy 50 million diet books per year and spend more than $50 billion on dieting); ultathin cultures have women that are double as depressed as men
- unattainable expectations + tendancy to take personal responsibility = badness

IV. What We Can Do
11. What to Do About Choice
(1) Choose when to choose
- costs are subtle and cumulative; focus on subjective, not objective
- You could make a rule to visit no more than 2 stores when shopping for clothes or to consider no more than 2 destinations when considering a vacation
(2) Be a chooser, not a picker
- choosers reflect on what makes a decision important, whether even none of the options should be chosen, or a new option created, and the expressive value of a choice; pickers are passive selectors from what is available
- shorten or eliminate fuss about unimportant decisions, use freed up time to reflect on what you want, think about what options would need to be created (if so)
(3) Satisfice more and maximize less
(4) Think about the opportunity costs of opportunity costs
- a “good investment” for a satisficer may be one that returns more than inflation. Period.
(5) Make your decisions nonreversible
- I’m simply not going there, I’ve made my decision so this option has nothing to do with me. I’m out of the market, so end of story
- you can pour your energy instead into improving the relationship, rather than second-guessing it
(6) Practice an “attitude of gratitude”
- the same experience can have delightful and disappointing aspects and its up to us what we focus on
- everyday list 5 things that happened which you are grateful for (you may be surprised)
(7) Regret Less
- practice gratitude for what is good in a decision rather than focusing on bad
(8) Anticipate adaptation
- develop realistic expectations about how experiences change with time and how we satisfied with only higher levels of experience over time (the double wammy)
(9) Control expectations
- remove excessively high ones, allow for serendipity
(10) Curtail social comparison
- learning that good enough is good enough will automatically reduce social comparison
- focus on what makes you happy and what gives meaning to your life
(11) Learn to love constraints
- they can be liberating this choice overload context
- following rules can free up time/energy for situations where rules don’t work

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Started Reading
December 1, 2007 – Finished Reading
March 23, 2008 – Shelved

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Lakshminarasimha Shubhraveshthi Thx for a nice summary

message 2: by Revan (new)

Revan Nice summary. Thank you!

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