As we make social, scientific and technological advances, we find ourselves with more options than were available to previous generations. The choice of what milk to buy is but one example of the ways in which we have become privy to an abundance of choices. There are hundreds of options for what kind of clothes we should purchase, the groceries we should buy, the car we should be driving, the beauty products we should be using, the restaurant we should eat at… the list goes on and on. While on the surface, the profusion of options might seem like it should increase consumer satisfaction, since people are more likely to find one option that fits their particular wants and needs, we can also become very overwhelmed. While it is easy to choose option A if there is only an option B, it becomes much harder to gauge the value and utility of A when there are options A-Z. As a result, we encounter a choice overload and become more dissatisfied with the choice that we eventually make.
The paradox of choice is not only a concern for economics and consumer satisfaction but an issue that is popping up in various areas of our lives as our possibilities come nearer and nearer to being endless. Moreover, the internet and social media has made it easier for us to see all the different options that are available to us, no longer having to physically stand in a store to determine what our options are. Fast-paced advances being made in technology and science also mean that there seems to be new kinds of jobs created on the daily – not to mention all the different social media applications that created a whole host of jobs (influencers, social media specialists, etc). Social media has also changed the way that we choose a life partner. Dating apps like Tinder and Hinge have enabled people to have dozens of options of who to date at their fingertips.
Following Herbert Simon’s ideas on bounded rationality and satisficing, Schwartz identified that the paradox of choice carries the most consequence for people that are maximizers. Maximizers, unlike satisficers, are concerned with making the best choice instead of simply making a choice that they are happy with. When there are many options available to maximizers, it becomes harder for them to determine which is the best, which can cause them to feel a great deal of regret after they have made a choice. Additionally, when there are more options, opportunity costs are greater and can leave people with more regret.
Instead of adhering to the belief that freedom of choice is unbounded, Schwartz suggests that “self-determination within significant constraints – within ‘rules’ of some sort – that leads to well-being, to optimal functioning” (1).5 It is within this ideology that Schwartz advocates that the role of psychology and behavioral economics is to find the kind of limitations on freedom that can lead to the greatest level of happiness within society.