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The Paradox Of Choice Why More Is Less by…

The Paradox Of Choice Why More Is Less (edition 2005)

by Barry Schwartz

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1,951323,489 (3.78)29
Title:The Paradox Of Choice Why More Is Less
Authors:Barry Schwartz
Info:Harpercollins 2005.
Collections:Read but unowned, Second Read, 2013

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The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz

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Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
I don't think there's much new psychology research in this book, but it's written in an easy-to-read manner. It's particularly worthwhile for those of us who build things in the digital world (and, of course, for anyone who wonders why they are anxious about the choices they make.) ( )
  thebradking | Feb 22, 2014 |
This is another in a seemingly endless procession of recent pop-psych/pop-econ books. So many to choose from!

Like so many others, Schwartz describes concepts and phenomena like opportunity cost, diminishing returns, loss aversion etc. in terms of his thesis. That is, contrary to popular wisdom (side note: with all these pop-psych/pop-econ books out there, I'm beginning to think that only the ideas that have any merit are those that run contrary to popular wisdom.), the widening array of choices everywhere in life has a detrimental effect on our happiness.

For starters, I partially disagree with his premise that freer markets lead to more choice. Freer markets also lead to firm concentration and scale or volume effects, which put downward pressure on the number of choices available. For example, shirts that used to be sold by collar size are now S, M, L, XL. I can't find jeans made with heavier gauge denim anymore. The quirky independent bookstore with the eclectic selection went out of business. But, overall it seems like there are more choices out there in many markets, and that is enough to make his premise functional. Whether there has actually been an increase in the differences between choices (personally, I would bet on a decrease) is another matter.

Next quibble: it isn't until you are well into the book that Schwartz admits the abundance of choice negatively affects only a subset of the population: the maximizers, or those who try to wring every last drop of utility from their decisions. The paradox is not universal. At this point it turns into more of a self-help book for maximizers.

Final complaint: This book is padded for length. Badly. Many sections reminded me of a student trying to stretch his or her essay out to the minimum number of pages, much to the detriment of the book. The thesis is stretched beyond its limits of applicability. A section on the downside of peoples' choices of religion? Another on their choices of race??? And there is example, after example, after example. I will be so, so relieved when today's technological upheavals in the publishing industry finally do away with this standard length (~75,000 words) for popular non-fiction.

Overall I think this is a worthwhile read, especially for those who tend to agonize over their decisions. ( )
  jeffjardine | Jul 31, 2013 |

Schwartz, with whom I had a pleasant chat at American Psychological Association a while back, contends that while having choices is valuable, more choices don't appear to lead to greater happiness, and may be psychologically detrimental. I enjoyed his arguments, which are closely associated with sociological and psychological studies, and recommend reading this book in conjunction with Gladwell's Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking or The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, or even Levitt and Dubner's Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (since you may recall that I didn't care much for the latter, you may shelve Schwartz near it without reading it if you so choose).

Though I agree with the conclusions drawn, in general, Schwartz's arguments seem reductive at times, and without seeing the studies themselves I can't evaluate whether other elements that may be important have been accounted for. Thus, choices are often presented as all-or-nothing, and research participants' pragmatic economic decision-making seems to be overlooked. For example, in studies where a sure bet of receiving $100 is set in opposition to a slightly better-weighted double-or-nothing option, participants' more common choice of $100 is not discussed in relativistic terms (such as would be familiar to readers of Gilligan's critique of Kohlberg) that include the participant's pragmatic life experience of needing to take a safe bet rather than a risky one with the potential for more gain but that might also cause loss.

In addition, those for whom the process of shopping or questing is enjoyable, and those who approach such activities with mindfulness and attention, are not well-represented in Schwartz's argument. Schwartz does allude to a related issue when he notes the possibility of history and cohort effects (though he doesn't say it that way); what is overwhelming for one generation (such as a cell phone) may be par for the course for the next (such as watching a video on an iPhone while texting about something else and pretending to be paying attention in class). ( )
  OshoOsho | Mar 30, 2013 |
  mcnabbp | Sep 4, 2012 |
I had such high hopes for this book. I was expecting it to focus largely on consumer culture, and to have some profound 'light bulb' moments that would really make me stop and think. Not that it didn't try, but unfortunately it never really hit the spot for me.

In actual fact, Schwartz focuses more on the psychological than the sociological, and widens his arguments to cover the choices we make in everything from education and careers to houses and cars to jeans and jam. The prevailing theme of the book is how the growth of choice in modern society, and the emphasis on the individual as the maker of choices, has taken us beyond freedom and into the realms of tyranny. Choice no longer liberates us; it spins us into its web and holds us there, stuck in our own uncertainty and fear. We no longer choose between three pairs of jeans in a store - we choose between ten different fits, three different leg lengths and four different colours. The same decision, however trivial it might be, now has higher stakes and many more alternatives to consider. This, Schwartz argues, plunges us into a constant whirlwind of regret, comparison, uncertainty, disappointment and even depression.

I think Schwartz provides a compelling and relatable case against excessive choice, which certainly made me stop to ponder just how much of our time we devote to comparing, researching and choosing between different options in even the most inconsequential areas of our lives. His eleven methods for reducing the negative effects of choice make sense, though for me as one of his 'satisficers' (people happy with 'good enough', as opposed to 'maximisers' who make their task more difficult by always looking for the best) I didn't feel I really had too much to learn from them.

My main problem with the book was that it was just too long. There was a lot of repetition - of ideas, anecdotes and examples - and the middle of the book really started to drag. Cutting the whole thing down by about 50 pages and sharpening the pace would have improved the reading experience without damaging the argument. I also noticed from the notes at the back that some of Schwartz's examples had been directly lifted from other people's work, without it being evident in the main body of text (the notes aren't numbered), which I thought was a bit sneaky. To sum up, maximisers and perfectionists might learn something important from this book, but satisficers - I wouldn't bother. It'd be like preaching to the choir anyway, so use your superior powers of choice to take you on to the next book! ( )
1 vote elliepotten | Nov 25, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
Schwartz, in an effort to help us mend our ways, applies to individual shoppers Simon’s distinction between maximizing and satisficing. A maximizer is someone who “can’t be certain that she has found the best sweater unless she’s looked at all the sweaters,” Schwartz writes.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060005696, Paperback)

In the spirit of Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, a social critique of our obsession with choice, and how it contributes to anxiety, dissatisfaction and regret. This paperback includes a new P.S. section with author interviews, insights, features, suggested readings, and more.

Whether we’re buying a pair of jeans, ordering a cup of coffee, selecting a long-distance carrier, applying to college, choosing a doctor, or setting up a 401(k), everyday decisions--both big and small--have become increasingly complex due to the overwhelming abundance of choice with which we are presented.

We assume that more choice means better options and greater satisfaction. But beware of excessive choice: choice overload can make you question the decisions you make before you even make them, it can set you up for unrealistically high expectations, and it can make you blame yourself for any and all failures. In the long run, this can lead to decision-making paralysis, anxiety, and perpetual stress. And, in a culture that tells us that there is no excuse for falling short of perfection when your options are limitless, too much choice can lead to clinical depression.

In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz explains at what point choice--the hallmark of individual freedom and self-determination that we so cherish--becomes detrimental to our psychological and emotional well-being. In accessible, engaging, and anecdotal prose, Schwartz shows how the dramatic explosion in choice--from the mundane to the profound challenges of balancing career, family, and individual needs--has paradoxically become a problem instead of a solution. Schwartz also shows how our obsession with choice encourages us to seek that which makes us feel worse.

By synthesizing current research in the social sciences, Schwartz makes the counterintuitive case that eliminating choices can greatly reduce the stress, anxiety, and busyness of our lives. He offers eleven practical steps on how to limit choices to a manageable number, have the discipline to focus on the important ones and ignore the rest, and ultimately derive greater satisfaction from the choices you have to make.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:49 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Whether buying a pair of jeans or applying to college, everyday decisions, big and small, have become increasingly complex due to the abundance of choice with which we are presented. As Americans, we assume that more choice means better options and greater satisfaction--but choice overload can make you question your decisions before you even make them, it can set you up for unrealistically high expectations, and it can make you blame yourself for failures. This can lead to decision-making paralysis, anxiety, and stress. In this book, social scientist Schwartz explains at what point choice--the hallmark of individual freedom that we so cherish--becomes detrimental to our psychological and emotional well-being. He offers practical steps on how to limit choices to a manageable number, focus on those that are important and ignore the rest, and derive greater satisfaction from the choices you have to make.--From publisher description.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 2 descriptions

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