Find a match: how much choice do you need?
Research suggests that choosing between too many options may be problematic, with Barry Schwartz famously arguing that the more options you have, the worse you eventually feel about your choice.
Logic tells us that our decisions lead to better outcomes when presented with a bigger option-set. With a decision which could shape our entire lives, choosing between 100 partner suggestions seems preferable to choosing between 5. By considering more people, we feel more confident in finding someone closely matching what we are looking for.
But psychological research challenges this intuition. Though people often expect more choice to enhance their decision making, we may in fact be overwhelmed by an extensive set of options, reducing both the motivation to decide and eventual choice satisfaction.
Lacking motivation to decide?
In a study investigating this “tyranny of choice” Iyengar and Lepper found evidence of this contradiction. Using a tasting booth in an upmarket US deli, they offered shoppers either a limited or extensive selection of different jams. While the extensive selection attracted more people, they observed that ten times as many (!) participants bought something when given the limited set. This result was corroborated in another context too; offering college students an optional, extra-credit assignment, they found many more students took part when given a smaller selection of essay options.
Researchers Shah and Wolford set-up a similar experiment in a US college library, offering students discounted pens in different selection sizes. The study’s results were similar to that of Iyengar and Lepper and gave a suggestion of an ‘optimum’ amount of choice. Using incrementally-increasing option sets, they saw that very limited and very extensive choice incentivised the lowest number of purchases. People were, however, twice as likely to buy a pen when presented with a moderate-sized selection.
More choice, less satisfaction?
Wanting to test this choice effect on subsequent satisfaction, Iyengar and Lepper also asked participants about their happiness after choosing from either a limited or extensive number of chocolates. They found people were significantly more satisfied if they made their choice from the smaller selection of chocolates.