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More is not always better

There is a mistaken assumption which is that if we give people more choices then they will be happier. However, the research shows that though some choice is good more is not necessarily better. For example, people who have too many options often regret their choices and feel anxious and dissatisfied. This research is backed up by a new study which shows that too many choices, whether good or bad, can be mentally exhausting.

Psychologists Roy Baumeister, Jene Twenge and colleagues found that when people have to make more choices they are less likely to reach their goals.  They found that participants with more choices were less likely to persevere on future tasks and were less productive.

The researchers carried out a series of seven experiments, in the laboratory, classroom and shopping mall, with 328 participants and 58 consumers.  There were two conditions in the experiment.  The first group had to make choices about various things: university courses, class materials or consumer products. The second group only had to consider options but they did not have to choose.

To test whether too many choices interfered with peoples' motivation and ability to reach goals the researchers gave participants one of two unpleasant tasks to participate in 1. Consume a healthy but not pleasant tasting drink (like medicine) 2. Put their hands in icy cold water.  What they found was that people in the choice condition were less likely to stay on the task and reach the goal.

The researchers found the same was true for solving math problems. People who had to make important choices involving course work  spent less time on problems and more time distracting themselves with activities like T.V. Not only this, but the researchers found that the more choice shoppers made the worse they were at later math problems. The researchers found that the same for making fun decisions too. 

What the research shows is that making choices, rather than thinking about options, can be mentally exhausting.  The more choices we give people the more difficult it may be for them to regulate their behaviour on future tasks.  This is important because we live in a world where there are many options and choices to make and this research shows that more is not necessarily better.  To access the article click here.  To read the press release click here.  To listen to related research findings from Barry Schwartz on the paradox of choice click here

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