Essay: Society and its abundance of choices to make people happier

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  • Society and its abundance of choices to make people happier
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Society believes that an abundance of choices allows people to get exactly what they want and will make them happier. Even though some choice is better than none, more may overwhelm people and become too much. Barry Schwartz writes in his article, “The Tyranny of Choice,” that more choices can lead to some drawbacks such as regret, adaptation, unattainable expectations, and paralysis of choice. These ideas are all valid but some may pertain to only certain types of decisions, specifically ones involving large price tags. His thoughts behind people being either a maximizer or a satisficer are valid in their own right, but it is not as clean cut for every single choice. A maximizer is someone who, when given a choice, will search all the possible options looking for the best choice. This behavior is very time consuming and often leads to the person having doubts and thinking that there is no best “one.” A satisficer is a person who settles for something on the premise that it is “good enough.” The people who are satisficers are thought to be happier with their choice and spend little time choosing, hence leaving them more free time to enjoy other things. One might be a satisficer for certain simple choices such as breakfast cereal, but may be a maximizer when they are looking to buy a new car. Having more is usually considered better, but not when it hinders ones decision making.
The issue of the vast quantity of choices has been encountered with medical research. The article, “So Many Choices, So Little Money” written by Elizabeth Pennisi, discussed the challenges with having so many scientific research options with insufficient funding. The attempt to sequence the human genome has been a hot topic for researchers and some people have dedicated their life to finding the functions of the 45,000 genes. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded around $1.4 billion to the research of the Human Genome Project (HGP) during the 1990s alone and The Wellcome Trust (a British biomedical charity) raised around $300 million as well. Although there is a wealth of funds coming to fruition, there are so many options for researchers to choose from. These options may leave scientists feeling one of the drawbacks that Schwartz hypothesized: unattainable expectations. With the increased options that we have to choose from, our expectations escalate to a point that anything less than perfect is disappointing. China and other European collaborates have begun work on the pig genome while Japan and Germany are working together on the chimp genome. “Setting priorites will be key, says [Francis] Collins [Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute], because sequencing funds and capacity cannot accommodate too many more species unless sequencing costs decrease substantially.” This is exactly the issue Schwartz raised about paralysis, meaning too many choices leads to not making a decision at all.
On the issue of unattainable expectations, scientists have set the top priority to find “the gold-standard set of human genes.” People may strive toward the “gold-standard” but never may be able to achieve is given the resources available. With high price tag projects out there, momentum might be hard to achieve due to the lack of money that is funded publicly. Instead of lowering expectations more results, people are pushing towards technological change to make these experiments faster and cheaper. The tyranny of choice in science is that there are so many fields available and only a limited amount of money to fund the research. Having more options is usually better, but here it clearly hinders the process and results of research.
An additional aspect of scientific research is the idea of informed consent meaning that a person must know what project they are participating in. There is an idea of “tiered consent” meaning that people have a choice of what project they want to participate in, specifically when their human tissue is sampled. The American Bar Association published a paper regarding “Tiered Consent and the Tyranny of Choice.” The author, Natalie Ram, states: “traditional social science theory suggests that more choices are preferable to fewer choices.” This idea believes that if a person is rational, the additional options can only make people better off. The thought process seems correct that “choice is essential to autonomy, which is absolutely fundamental to well-being.” Schwartz’s piece directly contradicts that statement with his ideas that more choices lead to issues of “information overload; arbitrary selection; avoidance of decision making; and regret.”
Information overload is the principle that the human mind does not have a limitless capacity and that only a finite amount of information can be absorbed before the mind is overwhelmed. When a person participates in a research project and you give the a choice from the myriad projects that they are uninformed about, one might not have the capacity to understand everything and that may lead to paralysis of choice as Schwartz would say. When faced with this issue, people use “’simplifying rules’ or rely on ‘simple heuristics’” to discard a large portion of information available. It is show that when people do this they experience “lower quality decision making in situations where there were clearly superior options given the benefits available for the price charged.”
The second point raised states that hyperchoice scenarios may not lead to just information overload and simplifying, but “checking out” completely as well. When a choice is mandatory, a person may “disengage, choosing almost arbitrarily to complete the process.” Opting out of decisions is simply less strenuous and less fatiguing and can lead to less regret as one is not as involved in the process.
The third trend that is noticed in the issue of hyperchoice is actually regret. Regret occurs when people experience frustration throughout the decision making process. Iyengar and Lepper believed that “choosers in extensive-choice contexts… may feel more responsible for the choices they make because of the multitude of options available.” Because of the greater options, people feel that they need to be “maximizers” and feel pressure to find the “best” one and are likely to feel regret after making a decision. Ram argues and confirms Schwartz’s belief of paralysis of choice stating that “fear of regret… may cause individuals to refrain from choosing one option among many.” She continues on to argue that a “maximizer” may be likely to avoid decision making in the beginning to prevent from feeling regret and possibly making the wrong decision. A “satisficer” is less likely to experience regret because they choose the “good enough” product and not opt out of the decision making process, even in hyperchoice scenarios.
Schwartz was on the right track when he penned his thoughts about decision making in hyperchoice scenarios, believing that drawbacks can hinder the decision making process and even the aftermath of choice. With science, the numerous possible projects all seem capable of being addressed, but the question of funding and allocation of said funding is the main deterrent. Technological advance is something that is sought after, only delaying the inevitable choice we will face when another project is brought to the table. This idea is most notably known as the drawback adaptation, that by becoming accustomed to whatever we’ve chosen, the availability to more options decreases our satisfaction with our choice. Hyperchoice scenarios seem to be arising more and more frequently in people’s lives and with the evolution of society will only add to the numerous choices available. Schwartz believes that a way to solve these issues may be to maintain a satisficer mentality or to limit options when decisions are not crucial. With that said, it is possible for one to be both a satisficer and a maximizer and change back and forth depending on the situation. It is important to differentiate when one is to be used and stick to it unequivocally.

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