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The Paradox of Choice

By Barry Schwartz.
Book Review 9/10
The Paradox of Choice has changed my professional career. Is one of the most enlightening books I ever had the pleasure to read. However, several critiques behind the book are that there isn't a lot of novelty behind the headline and that most of the outputs are based on common sense. I don't share this point of view. My background is not in psychology; thus, the level of information was really significant to me. And most importantly, I was able to make a further connection between cognition overload and Design. I was able to exploit Schwartz's findings and connect them with Anticipatory Design.

December 2020
Book Review. The Paradox of Chocie
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About the author

Barry Schwartz (@BarrySch) is a Professor of Psychology at Swarthmore. He dedicated his life to studying the link between economics and psychology, offering startling insights into modern life.

Schwartz TEDx about the Paradox of Choice

My notes and highlights

The Paradox of Choice has changed my professional career. Is one of the most enlightening books I ever had the pleasure to read. However, several critiques behind the book are that there isn't a lot of novelty behind the headline and that most of the outputs are based on common sense. I don't share this point of view. My background is not in psychology; thus, the level of information was really significant to me. And most importantly, I was able to make a further connection between cognition overload and Design. I was able to exploit Schwartz's findings and connect them with Anticipatory Design.


Supported by Artificial Intelligence (AI), Anticipatory design is based on the concept of predicting users' actions and needs by helping them to get rid of the abundance of choice. The goal is to reduce the decision fatigue we face today. This concept emerged as natural cooperation between technological advances like AI and Machine Learning and psychology. Accordantly, this book was a key element to my studies. The book outlines the effects of abundance and choice in life. Making decisions requires time and cognitive effort and for Schwartz, the range of choices people face every day has increased in recent years.


There are few references relate to the digital world. The examples are focused more on today's affluent society, where we're faced every single day with an endless array of choices, from the clothes we wear to what we should eat. Although they are not technological references, the core problems presented are deeply inherent to the digital world. Today's markets are saturated with too many options and choices (software's or apps), giving us an abundance of information to inform those choices demanding our attention and inputs all the time, leading us constantly to decision fatigue or analysis paralysis state. The positive effect of choices is that gives us a sense of fulfillment and frees us to be who we want to be. But on the opposite, presenting people with a wide array of options doesn't liberate them, it will paralyze them.

"The more we have, the more difficulty we have gathering the information necessary to make a good decision. The more difficult the information gathering is, the more likely it is that you will rely on the decisions of others."

Main key findings

#1 The range of choices people face every day has increased dramatically in the recent decade.

#2 The more options we have, the harder it becomes to make a good decision.

#3 The more options we have, the more likely we are to make a mistake.

#4 The more options we have, the less satisfaction we get from our decisions.

#5 The more options we have, the more likely it is that we will experience regret.

#6 We get used to things, and as a result our choices rarely make us feel as good as we expect.

#7 The overwhelming amount of choice contributes to the epidemic of unhappiness in modern society.

#8 Choices are more demanding and less fulfilling if you're a maximizer: someone who seeks and accepts only the best.

#9 Choices are less demanding and more fulfilling if you are a satisficer: someone who's able to settle for "good enough."

#10 Our social relations and psychological well-being improve if we embrace certain voluntary constraints on our freedom.

#1
The range of choices people face every day has increased dramatically in the recent decade

As our society and economy advanced, the array of choices in our everyday life has increased exponentially. We are not biologically prepared or adapted to face the demand for choices that today's is unparalleled in human history.


The book highlights the example of Harvard Faculty. Here, students can take at least one course in each of the seven different broad areas of inquiry. Among those areas, there are a total of about 220 courses from which to choose. "Foreign Cultures" has 32, "Historical Study" has 44, "Literature and the Arts" has 58, "Moral Reasoning" has 15, as does "Social Analysis," Quantitative Reasoning" has 25, and "Science" has 44 (p.21). What are the odds that two random students who bump into each other will have courses in common?


Such an abundance of choice also applies elsewhere. Especially in Software as a Service (SaaS), like the massive selection of different kinds of health insurance, retirement plans, and medical care.


The core idea behind the book is that we have too many choices, too many decisions, and too little time to do what is really important to us. The Paradox of Choice simply argues whether we are choosing a utility provider or deciding on a career path, contemporary society presents us with a bounty of choices.

#2
The more options we have, the harder it becomes to make a good decision

The book presents the advantages and disadvantages of unlimited freedom of choice. Translated by the idea that on one hand, when people have no choice, life is almost unbearable. On the other hand, having too many choices produces psychological distress, especially when combined with regret, concern about status, adaptation, social comparison, and perhaps most important, the desire to have the best of everything (p. 225).


For good or for bad there will always be alternatives to our choice. Luckily, most of our daily actions don't require the exhausting analysis of all the alternatives. The decision process is made so automatic that we don't contemplate other options.


The Paradox of Choice argues that being confronted with an abundance of choice can be so demanding that making it hard for us to choose. But even when we break free and make a decision, the mere existences of other options make us question if we make the right decision. This sense of regret and doubt will diminish the pleasure we get from our choices. Especially if we are making decisions that will alter our lives in the long term like decision our health insurance or retirement plan, for example. These decisions demand extensive research, and most people simply don't feel they have even the most basic skills or knowledge to make wise, informed decisions about such complex areas of life. Because being faced with such demanding choices puts a huge burden of responsibility on them.


It was here, that I realize that Anticipatory Design could play a major role by helping individuals making decisions on complex areas of life. Rather than everyday mundane decisions. Anticipatory Design can be used as a method to streamline the decision-making process. Designing for anticipation has the aim of reducing the cognitive overload of users by facilitating their choices. Through Anticipatory Design, we can propose a design method that, through automation, personalizes the user's flow by making and eliminating choice by predicting user experiences and preferences in co0mplex areas of life.


The increasing effect of these demanding choices, where we ourselves have the ultimate responsibility, makes it harder to choose wisely and can transform our freedom of choice into a crushing burden. But with the current technological advances, we can start to delegate the research and decision process to an automated system. That can step in as a subject-matter expert (SME) and make the best choice on our behalf.

#3
The more options we have, the more likely we are to make a mistake

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