Saturday, April 12, 2008

the paradox of choice

the trader joe's in back bay is ridiculously tiny. it has 2 full aisles and then two sort of half aisles. but i would choose to go to that trader joe's almost always over any other one, or any other grocery store. why? because it has mostly what i need, and because of the paradox of choice. before getting into this, let me tell you what inspired me to write this post. neha and i were walking back from the trader joe's and she told me that she had tried the shaws grocery store, which was also nearby. she said it was huge and had everything but it took her over an hour to navigate all the aisles and she just became so miserable with all the choices. she said she thought that was strange, but in fact it's not strange at all, and it's well-known in psychology that if you give people "too many" choices they can become overwhelmed and paralyzed, and may not make the best decision or any decision at all.

this leads to barry schwartz, the author of the book "the paradox of choice," a layman's guide to the problem described above. here's a short blurb from the intro to his ted talk:
In Schwartz's estimation, all that choice is making us miserable. We set unreasonably high expectations, question our choices before we even make them, and blame our failures entirely on ourselves. His relatable examples, from consumer products (jeans, TVs, salad dressings) to lifestyle choices (where to live, what job to take, whom and when to marry), underscore this central point: Too many choices undermine happiness.
if you find this topic interesting, i highly recommend that you watch either the ted talk (which is short) or the google tech talk given by barry, which is much longer and embedded below:

i also recommend an nytimes article describing some of the basic research in this subject.

No comments: