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The experiments of Barry Schwartz: less is more

The experiments of Barry Schwartz: less is more

April 28, 2024

When the number of options exceeds a certain threshold , overinformation can produce a level of stress that leads to paralysis. And sometimes it can be complicated to make a decision when we have many ways to throw. The more elements we have to exclude, the greater the stress and indecision

Now, thanks to letting go options we become capable people; otherwise, we would have an excess of physical and emotional burden that would make the road much more expensive.

  • Related article: "The powerful habit of choice in life"

Barry Schwartz and the paradox of choice

This week, we spoke with Mensalus Psychological and Psychological Assistance Institute about the paradox of choice through the experiments of Barry Schwartz.

What do Barry Schwartz's experiments show?

The psychologist and professor Barry Schwartz argued in his book The paradox of choice (2004), that the reasoning "more options is more well-being" is not necessarily true: A priori, a wider range of possibilities is positive and increases the welfare of individuals, but if the number of alternatives crosses a certain threshold, negative effects may appear .

Thus, if the threshold is exceeded in excess, the disadvantages may outweigh the advantages, producing the so-called paradox of choice. What at first is understood as "adding", in reality, turns against us and hinders free decision.

What were the experiments?

One of the experiments was carried out in a supermarket. It consisted in offering the tasting of a marmalade brand. Two measurements were made: in the first test, the exhibitor offered many flavors; In the second, there were few types of jam that users could taste. In both cases it was recorded how many people came to try the jam and how many ended up buying it.

Well, when there were more flavors on the display the number of people who decided to taste was greater, but very few ended up buying. In contrast, when the number of options was reduced, fewer people came to try but almost all bought. Why? Simple: before so many possibilities they were not able to decide. The conclusion was that, if the brand offered few flavors, they would increase their sales.

An article published in the country entitled "Less is more" compared this experiment with the strategy used in Greek restaurants in New York. The letter from these places was very extensive. The bombing of dishes presented by the menu increased the indecision among the customers. This caused them to put aside the options and ask for recommendations. It was then when the waiter took the opportunity to point out those dishes where the restaurant was most beneficial.

What more experiments did this psychologist carry out?

Schwartz fixed his attention on the university students. In several experiments it was proposed to different groups of students the possibility of increasing grade. In one of them, the teacher gave the opportunity to improve the score by writing a volunteer work. The first group of students was given the opportunity to choose among a few topics; to the second, he put a long list of possible.

Fix. The number of students who wrote the essay was significantly higher in the first group. Choosing between limited options was easy for them. However, choosing from an extensive repertoire of subjects led the students to stop the process. Most preferred to postpone the decision and, as a result, end up giving up the possibility of raising the grade.

With this type of experiments it was possible to show how the excess of options produced paralysis instead of motivating action.


The excess of options in all cases produced stress (to a greater or lesser degree). Having to think about the "crossroads" more than desired (taking into account the situation and possible gains) led the person to stop attending or take responsibility (I do not buy / do not choose any dish / I do not endeavor to make a work to upload note).

The same thing can happen to us in daily life. When we digress between an excess of options, we end up getting bored and even exhausted. The result is no action ("I have seen so many dresses that I no longer know which one I prefer, now I doubt more than at the beginning").

Doubt is an element known to all. Precisely one of the strategies to face the doubt is to delimit the number of options and draw concrete plans of action. Of course, we can always find new alternatives, new strategies, new focuses to attack but ...

... Is this always what we need? What level of stress produces the wide range of options in our mind? What helps us close chapters and what hinders us? Answering these questions slows down thinking and limits the range of possibilities.

What parallelism can we make between the Schwartz experiments and the intervention in Psychotherapy?

From Psychotherapy we work to broaden the vision of the patient's world, detect unintended solutions and propose new intervention strategies. Now, we will always work taking into account the efficiency and saving of vital energy. Anchoring in infinite possibilities leads the person to loop and stay in contemplation instead of heading towards the decision.

This happens for fear of being wrong: renunciation is the key element. The more you give up, the decision generates more stress and anxiety.

Again we ask ourselves ... Why?

It is not about the things we choose, but about all those that we lose by choosing. The possibilities constitute exclusive alternatives and no one can take both roads at a crossroads simultaneously. If I choose to take the second steak, I do not choose to eat the duck. It is true that another day I can go back to the restaurant and eat it, but at that moment I must choose what to eat ("Will the entrecote be well done?", "Will I like the sauce that accompanies the duck?").

The truth is that the more dishes, the more chances I have of "making a mistake" and not choosing the best culinary work, I renounce more flavors and experiences. This banal decision can be translated into many more important ones (study centers, careers, job offers, etc.).

What does the renunciation of our life bring?

The renunciation is part of the maturation process of the human being. Choosing increases our security and self-esteem. Thanks to letting go options we become capable people, otherwise, we would have an excess of physical and emotional burden that would make the road much more expensive.

Putting ourselves the easy things when deciding involves contemplating the options according to our reality. The possibilities, perhaps, are many, but it will be our responsibility to consider only those that respond to our need and that of the people around us.


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