NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 19, 2010

It is better for consumers to have more choices.  That is the conclusion reached by psychologists Benjamin Scheibehenne, Rainer Greifeneder and Peter M. Todd in a new review of studies on consumer choice for the Journal of Consumer Research.  

Their paper rebuts the idea, popularized by Swarthmore College psychologist Barry Schwartz in his 2004 book, "The Paradox of Choice," that too many choices overwhelm people, fostering anxiety and dissatisfaction: 

  • Although previous experiments showed that "choice overload" exists, it does not seem to be common.
  • The authors reviewed 50 experiments involving more than 5,000 subjects from the United States, Europe, Asia and Australia.
  • "Based on the data," they report, "no sufficient conditions could be identified that would lead to a reliable occurrence of choice overload."  

While there may be specific factors that occasionally paralyze consumers, their results "suggest that having many options to choose from will, on average, not lead to a decrease in satisfaction or motivation to make a choice." 

Source: Benjamin Scheibehenne, Rainer Greifeneder and Peter M. Todd, "Can There Ever Be Too Many Options? A Meta-Analytic Review of Choice Overload," Journal of Consumer Research, August 2010; and Peter Suderman, "You Chose, You Win," Reason Magazine, May 2010. 

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