Don’t We Wish We Have More Choices In Life?

29 Sep 2015

Most of us probably prefer to have options in various aspects of life, which schools to attend, what courses to pursue, what jobs to take up, who to share our lives with…?

Common sense suggests that we should be happier if we are presented with options, rather than “NO CHOICE”. The later is often associated with negativities. For instance, poor grades constrain what courses we can pursue… weak financial status dictates what kind of living spaces we can afford… poor health limits what we can do in life… Hence, availability of choices is often valued by most of us. But do more choices bring greater satisfaction?

The Following May Be Technical…

Researchers, Iyengar and Lepper (2000) challenged the view that more choices are more motivating. In one of their studies, customers of a gourmet grocery store were presented with either 6 or 24 different flavors of jam to sample. They found that the 24 flavors setup attracted more customers. However, this did not translate into actual purchase behaviors. Interestingly, customers presented with 6 flavors were more likely to make a purchase subsequently. Hence, more choices (in this case) did not motivate purchase behaviors.

Iyengar and Lepper also presented university students with one of the following setup: 1 (NO CHOICE), 6 or 30 chocolate flavors. Students in the limited choice (6 flavors) group were most satisfied with their chocolates sampled, followed by those in the 30 flavors group. The NO CHOICE group was least satisfied with the chocolates they sampled.

So What Can We Infer?

Taking into considerations the limitations of these studies (refer to Iyengar & Lepper, 2000), these findings suggested the following:

(1) Having choices seems more desirable than not having any options.

(2) However, moderation is the key when it comes to number of choices. Having limited choices may be better than having lots of options.

My Experiences with Buffets…

Many of us had been to buffets. Most of us probably prefer buffets with a reasonable spread. However, a buffet with too many dishes can be potentially overwhelming. When there are too many options, I often found it difficult to decide what to put on my plate. While food choices are unlimited, there is limited stomach capacity. Unable to decide, I ended up taking a little of various dishes. Often, I regretted some of my choices.

Perhaps a large number of choices places too much demand on our limited information processing ability leading to less optimal decisions. Furthermore, the dishes that we failed to sample somehow appeared to be better than what we had piled on our plates…

FOOD for thought indeed…

Less Is More, SLC


Iyengar, S. S., & Lepper, M. R. (2000). When choice is demotivating: Can one desire too much of a good thing? Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 79(6), 995-1006.


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