Link: The Agony Of Opportunity

I borrowed the title of this post from an article Charles Naquin conducted that has inspired a small study I’m currently working on.  Naquin found that in negotiation, having more negotiable issues leads to better outcomes (because people can logroll issues for joint gain), but that these objectively better outcomes lead to less individual satisfaction.

This finding probably wouldn’t surprise the consumer-behaviour folks.  Sheena Iyengar at Columbia has been doing research on this topic for years, with similar results.  Give someone a choice between twenty varieties of jam, and they wind up less satisfied with their choice than someone who had only six flavours to choose from.  When we have a pile of possible outcomes, we’re prone to mulling over counterfactual thoughts about what might have been.  It holds for jam, and it holds for negotiations.

One recently-discovered solution is to help people chunk their options into categories.  This makes intuitive sense, because it helps refine an overwhelming awareness set into a more manageable choice set.  But the interesting, shake-your-head-at-our-hilarious-irrationality finding is this one:

Now Iyengar has published a new study showing that one way to combat the effects of excessive choice is to group items into categories. It turns out that even useless categories make people happier with their choices…. students who chose from a coffee menu liked their choices better when the menu grouped the coffees into categories, even if the names were meaningless — for example, “Lola’s.”

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