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The Paradox of Choice Book Summary – Barry Schwartz

What you will learn from reading The Paradox of Choice:

– Why too much choice is bad. 

– How to make better decisions when you have lots of options.

– Why restriction can become freedom.

The Paradox of Choice Book Summary

The Paradox of Choice Book Summary explains why a world free of choice can actually reduce freedom. Looking at choice through the lens of regret and alternatives, Barry Schwartz shows how too much choice can be a bad thing. 

If you’re looking to make better choices or feel more comfortable in choices you’ve made, then read this book.


The Paradox of our Times – According to a survey conducted by Yankelovich Partners, a majority of people want more control over the details of their lives, but a majority of people also want to simplify their lives. There you have it—the paradox of our times. 

And most people may feel that they lack the expertise to make decisions about their money by themselves. Once again, new choices demand more extensive research and create more individual responsibility for failure. 

We know have precedent to choose over doctors so – drug companies are investing big money to reach us, the consumers, directly? Clearly they hope and expect we will notice their products and demand that our doctors write the prescriptions. The doctors are now merely instruments for the execution of our decisions. 

There are always alternatives – His point was that everything in life is choice. Every second of every day, we are choosing, and there are always alternatives. 


Steps for a good decision:

Most good decisions will involve these steps: 

1. Figure out your goal or goals. 

2. Evaluate the importance of each goal. 

3. Array the options. 

4. Evaluate how likely each of the options is to meet your goals.

5. Pick the winning option. 

6. Later use the consequences of your choice to modify your goals, the importance you assign them, and the way you evaluate future possibilities.


Expected utility is important in your decision.

So choices are based upon expected utility. And once you have had experience with particular restaurants, CDs, or movies, future choices will be based upon what you remember about these past experiences, in other words, on their remembered utility.

So it seems that neither our predictions about how we will feel after an experience nor our memories of how we did feel during the experience are very accurate reflections of how we actually do feel while the experience is occurring. And yet it is memories of the past and expectations for the future that govern our choices.

Does a particular carmaker give safety a high priority in the manufacture of its cars? When you see film footage of a crash test in which a $50,000 car is driven into a wall, it’s hard to believe the car company doesn’t care about safety, no matter what the crash-test statistics say.

Make comparisons easy and large — And when such comparisons are easy to make, shoppers follow through and act on the information.


Mental accounting – people separate past and future decisions:

Suppose that in a person’s psychological ledger there is a “cost of the concert” account. In the first case, the cost of the concert is $20 charged to that account. But the lost $20 bill is charged to some other account, perhaps “miscellaneous.” But in the second case, the cost of the concert is $40; the cost of the lost ticket, plus the cost of the replacement ticket, both charged to the same account.


Use wording to frame things as a loss or a gain:

So fairly subtle manipulations of wording can affect what the neutral point is and whether we are thinking in terms of gains or losses.

The growth of choice and opportunity has caused three things:

  1. It means that decisions require more effort.
  2. It makes mistakes more likely.
  3. It makes the psychological consequences of mistakes more severe.


Maximising vs Satisficing:

The alternative to maximizing is to be a satisficer. To satisfice is to settle for something that is good enough and not worry about the possibility that there might be something better. A satisficer has criteria and standards. She searches until she finds an item that meets those standards, and at that point, she stops.

When you examine an object and it’s good enough to meet your standards, you look no further; thus, the countless other available choices become irrelevant. But if you’re a maximizer, every option has the potential to snare you into endless tangles of anxiety, regret, and second-guessing.

But maximizing is not a measure of efficiency. It is a state of mind. If your goal is to get the best, then you will not be comfortable with compromises dictated by the constraints imposed by reality.

While maximizers and perfectionists both have very high standards, I think that perfectionists have very high standards that they don’t expect to meet, whereas maximizers have very high standards that they do expect to meet.

I have difficulty ordering, and then I look at food being brought out to other diners, and not infrequently conclude that they ordered more wisely than I did. All of which clearly diminishes the satisfaction I get from the choices I actually make.


Establishing and maintaining meaningful social relations requires a willingness to be bound or constrained by them, even when dissatisfied.

Suggested that people have two general classes of responses available when they are unhappy. They can exit the situation, or they can protest and give voice to their concerns.

If you adopt the rule that you will never cheat on your partner, you will eliminate countless painful and tempting decisions that might confront you later on.


Biological Choice Constraints: Importance of equanimity

Biology supplies the needed constraints on choice. It helps organisms recognise food, mates, predators, and other dangers, and it supplies them with a small set of activities appropriate for obtaining what they truly need.

So, biology places constraints on what is desirable and pushes us to pursue things that might not be good for us.


The Downside of abundant choice:

Each new option adds to the list of trade-offs, and trade-offs have psychological consequences.

Economists point out that the quality of any given option cannot be assessed in isolation from its alternatives. One of the “costs” of any option involves passing up the opportunities that a different option would have afforded.

  • The more alternatives there are from which to choose, the greater our experience of the opportunity costs will be.

The existence of multiple alternatives makes it easy for us to imagine alternatives that don’t exist—alternatives that combine the attractive features of the ones that do exist.


Avoid Confronting Trade-offs if possible (Make decision easy)

So the researchers concluded that being forced to confront trade-offs in making decisions makes people unhappy and indecisive.

Faced with one attractive option, two-thirds of people are willing to go for it. But faced with two attractive options, only slightly more than half are willing to buy. Adding the second option creates a conflict, forcing a trade-off between price and quality. Without a compelling reason to go one way or the other, potential consumers pass up the sale altogether. 


The Decoy effect:

Using the presence of a clearly inferior alternative makes it easier for consumers to take the plunge of an obviously superior option.

Conflict of choice induces people to avoid decisions.

Based on these studies, and others like them, researchers concluded that when people are presented with options involving trade-offs that create conflict, all choices begin to look unappealing.

We just don’t want to have to evaluate trade-offs ourselves. And we don’t want to do it because it is emotionally unpleasant to go through the process of thinking about opportunity costs and the losses they imply.


We Avoid Decisions which say something about ourselves:

We avoid decision that reveal our preferences and things about ourselves

Even decisions as trivial as renting a video become important if we believe that these decisions are revealing something significant about ourselves.


Justifications increasing with stakes of decisions:

As the stakes of decision increase we feel the need to justify them. We feel compelled to articulate—at least to ourselves—why we made a particular choice.

My concern, given the research on trade-offs and opportunity costs, is that as the number of options goes up, the need to provide justifications for decisions also increases.

Learning to choose is hard. Learning to choose well is harder. And learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is harder still, perhaps too hard.


Decisions and regret:

Both types of regret—anticipated and postdecision—will raise the emotional stakes of decisions. Anticipated regret will make decisions harder to make, and postdecision regret will make them harder to enjoy.

Indeed, we think that concern about regret is a major reason that individuals are maximizers. The only way to be sure that you won’t regret a decision is by making the best possible decision.


Responsibility and regret – expect to not be perfect:

Bad results make people regretful only if they bear responsibility.


Ideal scenarios and regret:

This ability to conjure up ideal scenarios provides a never-ending supply of raw material for experiencing regret.

Instead, counterfactual thinking is usually triggered by the occurrence of something unpleasant, something that itself produces a negative emotion. Counterfactual thoughts are generated in response to experiences such as poor exam grades, trouble in romantic relationships, and the illness or death of loved ones.

Upward counterfactuals are imagined states that are better than what actually happened, and downward counterfactuals are imagined states that are worse.


Creating an imagined contrast:

And what counterfactual thinking does is establish a contrast between a person’s actual experience and an imagined alternative.

Under these conditions, people can no longer avoid the possibility of regret no matter which option they choose. And, indeed, it does make a difference. We show greater willingness to take risks when we know we will find out how the unchosen alternative turned out.


Inaction Inertia:

Another effect that the desire to avoid regret can have is to induce people not to act at all, what is called inaction inertia.

We miss out on flying points so we don’t set-up reward account (sunk cost fallacy again)

We have seen that two of the factors affecting regret are Personal responsibility for the result How easily an individual can imagine a counterfactual, better alternative The availability of choice obviously exacerbates both of these factors.

Perfection is the only weapon against regret, and endless, exhaustive, paralyzing consideration of the alternatives is the only way to achieve perfection.


Adaption and satisfaction:

Simply put, we get used to things, and then we start to take them for granted.

First, people just get used to good or bad fortune. Second, the new standard of what’s a good experience (winning the lottery) may make many of the ordinary pleasures of daily life (the smell of freshly brewed coffee, the new blooms and refreshing breezes of a lovely spring day) rather tame by comparison.

The pattern of results was clear: those predicting expected each of the hypothetical changes—both good and bad—to have a bigger effect than was reported by those reflecting back on actual experience.


Comparing experiences:

Comparing the experience to what they hoped it would be 

Comparing the experience to what they expected it to be 

Comparing the experience to other experiences they have had in the recent past Comparing the experience to experiences that others have had

But the language of description is not the only factor that affects the setting of the zero point. Expectations do as well. “How good did I expect this meal (exam grade, wine, vacation, job, romantic relationship) to be?” people ask themselves. Then they ask themselves, “How good was it?”


Keep things a special occasion:

One way of achieving this goal is by keeping wonderful experiences rare. No matter what you can afford, save great wine for special occasions. No matter what you can afford, make that perfectly cut, elegantly styled, silk blouse a special treat.

The word “maximizing,” implying as it does a desire for the best, suggests standards that are absolute. There is, it would seem, only one “best,.

Best in what regard? 


Barriers to information lead to social herd behaviour:

The more difficult information gathering is, the more likely it is that you will rely on the decisions of others.

Tension between individualism and a group:

There is an inherent tension between being your own person, or determining your own “self,” and meaningful involvement in social groups. Significant social involvement requires subordinating the self. So the more we focus on ourselves, the more our connections to others weakens.


Responsibility and links to depression:

When efforts to be thin fail, people not only have to face the daily disappointment of looking in the mirror, they also must face the causal explanation that this failure to look perfect is their fault.

UNATTAINABLE EXPECTATIONS, PLUS A TENDENCY TO TAKE INTENSE personal responsibility for failure, make a lethal combination.

To manage the problem of excessive choice, we must decide which choices in our lives really matter and focus our time and energy there, letting many other opportunities pass us by. But by restricting our options, we will be able to choose less and feel better.


Restriction is freedom:

Restricting yourself in this way may seem both difficult and arbitrary, but actually, this is the kind of discipline we exercise in other aspects of life. You may have a rule of thumb never to have more than two glasses of wine at a sitting.

What should require time to make a decision?

Good decisions take time and attention, and the only way we can find the needed time and attention is by choosing our spots.


Becoming a Satisficer:

To become a satisficer, however, requires that you think carefully about your goals and aspirations, and that you develop well-defined standards for what is “good enough” whenever you face a decision.

What standards am I setting here? Lower your standards increase your action.

Think about occasions in life when you settle, comfortably, for “good enough”; Scrutinize how you choose in those areas; Then apply that strategy more broadly.

WHEN MAKING A DECISION, IT’S USUALLY A GOOD IDEA TO THINK about the alternatives we will pass up when choosing our most-preferred option. Ignoring these “opportunity costs” can lead us to overestimate how good the best option is.

Unless you’re truly dissatisfied, stick with what you always buy. Don’t be tempted by “new and improved.” Don’t “scratch” unless there’s an “itch.” And don’t worry that if you do this, you’ll miss out on all the new things the world has to offer.


Paradox of Allowing the changing of minds:

What we don’t realize is that the very option of being allowed to change our minds seems to increase the chances that we will change our minds.

Because – When a decision is final, we engage in a variety of psychological processes that enhance our feelings about the choice we made relative to the alternatives. If a decision is reversible, we don’t engage these processes to the same degree.

Knowing that you’ve made a choice that you will not reverse allows you to pour your energy into improving the relationship that you have rather than constantly second-guessing it.

All decisions non-reversible – don’t second guess yourself


Prep for adaptation:

We can’t prevent adaptation. What we can do is develop realistic expectations about how experiences change with time. Our challenge is to remember that the high-quality sound system, the luxury car, and the ten-thousand-square-foot house won’t keep providing the pleasure they give when we first experience them.


Create rules for routine decisions:

Tyranny of choice. Routine decisions take so much time and attention that it becomes difficult to get through the day. In circumstances like this, we should learn to view limits on the possibilities we face as liberating not constraining.

By deciding to follow a rule (for example, always wear a seat belt; never drink more than two glasses of wine in one evening), we avoid having to make a deliberate decision again and again. This kind of rule-following frees up time and attention that can be devoted to thinking about choices and decisions to which rules don’t apply.