Too much choice leaving us bewildered and depressed
Published 21/01/2010 | 15:18
Modern life is making us miserable because we have too much choice, claims new research.
From the foods we eat, to the television channels we watch, to the schools we send our children too and the career we choose to pursue, society has never offered us so much variety.
But while the ability to choose is generally a good thing, too much freedom of choice is crippling us with indecision and making us unhappy, claims the new research.
People can become paralysed by too much variety and wracked with uncertainty and regret about whether they have made the right decision.
Ultimately they can be less satisfied by the choices they have made.
The study believes that the problem is that when you have too much choice, you become obsessed about what your decision will say about you.
Then when you have made the choice you worry that it is wrong.
Choice can also foster selfishness and a lack of empathy because it can focus people on their own preferences and on themselves at the expense of what is good for society as a whole.
Professor Hazel Rose Markus, the author from Stanford University's Department of Psychology, said: "We cannot assume that choice, as understood by educated, affluent Westerners, is a universal aspiration, and that the provision of choice will necessarily foster freedom and well-being.
"Even in contexts where choice can foster freedom, empowerment, and independence, it is not an unalloyed good. Choice can also produce a numbing uncertainty, depression, and selfishness."
The authors looked at a body of research into the cultural ideas surrounding choice.
They found that among non-Western cultures and among working-class Westerners, freedom and choice are less important or mean something different than they do for the university-educated people.
Professor Markus said: "And even what counts as a 'choice' may be different for non-Westerners than it is for Westerners.
"Moreover, the enormous opportunity for growth and self-advancement that flows from unlimited freedom of choice may diminish rather than enhance subjective well-being."
Professor Markus said her study, which focused on Americans, applied to all middle-class Westerners.
She said: "Americans live in a political, social, and historical context that advances personal freedom, choice, and self-determination above all else.
"Contemporary psychology has proliferated this emphasis on choice and self-determination as the key to healthy psychological functioning."
"Does Choice Mean Freedom and Well Being?" will be published in the Journal of Consumer Research.