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The Choices Before Us: Can Fewer Options Lead To Better Decisions?

A young girl chooses from among arrows pointed in four different directions.
Klaus Vedfelt
Getty Images

To many people, an abundance of options is a good thing, a symbol of freedom and control. Youget to choose whether to spend your Saturday at a movie or a baseball game. You decide whether to try the new restaurant down the block, or to stay in and cook. It's your call whether to take the job with higher pay, or the one with the better work-life balance.

Of course, the coronavirus pandemic has eliminated these and other options that we used to take for granted. And for many of us, this sudden contraction of choice has been a struggle.

This week on Hidden Brain, we talk with Sheena Iyengar, professor of psychology at Columbia Business School. In her research, Sheena has explored how people respond to an abundance of options, and how culture shapes the way we think about choice. She says the pandemic has forced her to focus on the choices that are most important to make each day.

"It gives you a greater recognition of what you really have in your control and what things you really don't have as much control over," she says.

Additional resources:

The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar, 2011.

"When choice is demotivating: Can one desire too much of a good thing?" by Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,2000.

"Rethinking the value of choice: A cultural perspective on intrinsic motivation," by Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,1999.

"Tragic Choices: Autonomy and Emotional Responses to Medical Decisions," by Simona Botti, Kristina Orfali, and Sheena Iyengar, Journal of Consumer Research,2009.

The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz, 2009.

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