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Maximizing versus satisficing: Happiness is a matter of choice

Barry Schwartz and Andrew Ward
Swarthmore College
John Monterosso
University of Pennsylvania
Sonja Lyubomirsky
University of California, Riverside
Katherine White and Darrin R. Lehman
University of British Columbia

This paper presented several experiments that examined the effects of choice on psychological well-being.  The authors hypothesised that increased options can have a negative impact on some people.  These individuals are referred to as 'maximizers' and are driven by the desire to gain the best possible results by examining every possible option before making a decision.  Maximizers were compared to 'satisficers', that is, people who accept things as 'good enough' for their threshold of acceptability.


Study 1
1,747 participants, a combination of University students and community samples, were assessed for their tendency to satisfice or maximize.  Scores on a Maximization Scale were compared to scores on a Regret Scale and measures of happiness, life satisfaction, optimism, depression, neuroticism and perfectionism.  The results found that maximizers reported significantly less life satisfaction, happiness, optimism and self-esteem, and significantly more regret and depression than did satisficers.  Although maximizing was significantly correlated with perfectionism, the associations of each of these variables with happiness and self-esteem were quite different.  Increased maximizing was related to decreased happiness but increased perfectionism was related to an increase in happiness scores.  Self-esteem on the other hand, was negatively correlated with maximizing, and there was no correlation at all between self-esteem and perfectionism, which led the authors to suggest that maximizing and perfectionism are distinct.

Study 2
This study examined the maximizing and satisficing tendencies of 401 undergraduate students in relation to social comparison, regret, and happiness with their recent consumer purchasing decisions.  As expected, maximizing predicted reports of engaging in social comparison, being concerned with what others were doing, product comparison, and counterfactual thinking with regard to their purchases.  Higher scores for maximizing also predicted more feelings of regret and less happiness regarding purchases.

Study 3
A sample of 26 maximizers and 28 satisficers took part in an experiment aimed to examine differences in reactions to social comparison information in a controlled laboratory setting.  Maximizers were expected to be more sensitive to unfavourable social comparison feedback than satisficers.  Participants were asked to solve a set of anagram puzzles at their own pace.  The performance of a peer was manipulated so that each participant experienced relative success (i.e. the peer performed worse than they did) or relative failure (i.e. the peer performed better than they did).  Maximizers were more affected by social comparison information than satisficers.  Maximizers who saw their peer solve anagrams faster than themselves expressed greater doubts about their own ability to perform the task and demonstrated a greater increase in negative moods compared with maximizers who saw their peers solve fewer anagrams than themselves.  In contrast, satisficers displayed little or no such response to the social comparison information provided by the performance of their peer.  Further analyses also indicated that associations between maximization and happiness did not predict the differences in response but maximisation per se was the main influence on the responses.

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