PARADOX OF CHOICE

Too much choice can be troubling

... choice is better than none, but it doesn’t follow from that, that more choice is better than some choicartz

In Summary

•Now, we have choices, lots of them.

• ...in movies, clothes, broadcasters, careers, peanut butter brands on supermarket shelves; it’s everywhere you look, a myriad of choices.

 

Products displayed at a supermarket
Products displayed at a supermarket
Image: FILE

So I’m watching television with my wife when this advert promoting Serie A (Italian football league), comes on. She found the advert interesting and wondered out loud when Serie A is on.

My missus doesn’t watch TV much and sometimes I get the impression, though I could be wrong, that she is not aware we’re subscribed to more than one pay-TV service.

Anyway, to answer her question, I said Serie A is on all the time and to illustrate my point, I changed the channel and there it was – an Italian football match. To further enlighten her on all the other options available, I started flipping through sports channels; from Serie A, we hopped to the Spanish football league and then onto the English Premier League. I even switched sports to cricket, MotoGP, Slalom and as I was doing this, it occurred to me how very different the world is today compared to when I was a kid back in the 80s. There was only one broadcaster (VOK), and only the one channel, and football was aired Saturdays only in a show called Football Made in Germany.

Things have changed quite a bit since then. Now, we have choices, lots of them. Not just in the football leagues from around the world you can watch but in movies, clothes, broadcasters, careers, peanut butter brands on supermarket shelves; it’s everywhere you look, a myriad of choices. But, is all this choice good?

... some choice is better than none, but it doesn’t follow from that, that more choice is better than some choice.
Barry Schwartz

Apparently, it’s not.

Psychologist and professor of social theory Barry Schwartz calls it the paradox of choice and it states: Having many choices, instead of making it easy to choose one, makes it difficult to choose any.

‘...some choice is better than none, but it doesn’t follow from that, that more choice is better than some choice’. – Barry Schwartz.

For one thing, more choice leads to paralysis. A simple example, you go into a supermarket to get a bottle of water and often you’ll find a towering aisle of different bottled water brands. Do you get the expensive bottled water, and does that mean the water is better because it’s expensive? Or do you get the cheaper brand, or maybe the cheapest? When there are so many choices on offer, not just in bottled water but in anything, there’s the likelihood of fearing to make the wrong choice, making it difficult to decide and you’re paralysed by indecision.

Another negative effect of more choice is what economists call the opportunity cost. This refers to the loss of other alternatives when one alternative is chosen. In the case of choices, when there are lots of alternatives to consider, it’s easy to imagine the attractive features of the alternatives you didn’t choose, which then makes you less satisfied with the choice you made even if it was a good choice.

More choice also leads to high expectations that are unlikely to be met. We didn’t expect much from VOK and so sometimes you’d be pleasantry surprised and when you were not, you weren’t disappointed. But now there’s your ShowMax, Dstv, Netflix, you can’t help but have high expectations what with so many options at hand such that when you get good, it’s not enough because you expect great.

Choice per se is not bad. Too much choice, on the other hand, can be troubling.