Watch Barry Schwartz’s “The Paradox of Choice” talk at TED

Psychologist Barry Schwartz takes aim at a central tenet of western societies: freedom of choice. In Schwartz’s estimation, choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied.

In his 2004 book The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz tackles one of the great mysteries of modern life: Why is it that societies of great abundance — where individuals are offered more freedom and choice (personal, professional, material) than ever before — are now witnessing a near-epidemic of depression? Conventional wisdom tells us that greater choice is for the greater good, but Schwartz argues the opposite: He makes a compelling case that the abundance of choice in today’s western world is actually making us miserable.

Infinite choice is paralyzing (resonating with Dan Ariely’s “Are we in control of our own decisions?”), Schwartz argues, and exhausting to the human psyche. It leads us to set unreasonably high expectations, question our choices before we even make them and blame our failures entirely on ourselves. His relatable examples, from consumer products (jeans, TVs, salad dressings) to lifestyle choices (where to live, what job to take, who and when to marry), underscore this central point: Too much choice undermines happiness.

Schwartz’s previous research has addressed morality, decision making and the varied inter-relationships between science and society. Before Paradox he published The Costs of Living, which traces the impact of free-market thinking on the explosion of consumerism — and the effect of the new capitalism on social and cultural institutions that once operated above the market, such as medicine, sports, and the law.

Both books level serious criticism of modern western society, illuminating the under-reported psychological plagues of our time. But they also offer concrete ideas on addressing the problems, from a personal and societal level.

Itamar Medeiros

Originally from Brazil, Itamar Medeiros currently lives in Germany, where he works as Lead Product Design Strategist at SAP and promotes User Experience Design as visiting lecturer at Köln International School of Design. Working in the Information Technology industry since 1998, Itamar Medeiros has helped truly global companies in several countries (Argentina, Brazil, China, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Mexico, The Netherlands, Poland, United Arab Emirates, United States) create great user experience through advocating Design and Innovation principles. During his 7 years in China, he championed the User Experience Design discipline as User Experience Manager at Autodesk and Local Coordinator of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA) in Shanghai

1 Response

  1. September 4, 2010

    […] and subsequent, equally ingenious experiments have provided rich material for Malcolm Gladwell, Barry Schwartz, Dan Arielly and other pop chroniclers of business and the human psyche.)Iyengar’s research […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.