Can choice make us more selfish?

May 18, 2011

In an era of endless multiple choice and a solution for every problem – is it possible that too much choice can make us selfish?  It appears so and this article from Discover Magazine makes for depressing reading.  In outlining a research experiment undertaken by Krishna Savani from Columbia University it appears that Americans, when faced with the concept of choice, are less concerned with public good, less empathic towards disadvantaged groups and more focussed on individual control.  Endless choice perpetuates ideas of individual power over social – satisfaction is a personal issue it seems and Americans are more likely to choose themselves, or their own needs over that of others.

When faced with more choices, people make poorer decisionsfail to notice the difference between their options, lose motivation, and end up less happy with the choices they eventually make. Jonah Lehrer has written about these issues extensively on his excellent blog The Frontal Cortex, while Barry Schwartz has written an entire book on the subject, called The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less.

Depressing reading? perhaps – but Schwartz’s book is a bit more optimistic in that he argues the case for less choice as a factor in increased happiness.  Let’s face it – if we’re immobilised by too much choice, reducing the number of choices may help address the hyperventilation.  Constraints and boundaries can only be a good thing – great art is created out of those constraints – innovation in business emerges from disappointments – when is the last time we heard of anything really new or great emerging from thorough satisfaction?


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