In everyday life, there are numerous situations where we are presented with a selection of alternatives.  For example, shopping for clothes, buying a car, or choosing a holiday.  But is this abundance of choice a good thing?  Given that a sheer amount of choice can lead to a 'more means worse' effect, it may not be, and there are several reasons why.

  • Firstly, choosing from a large number of possibilities increases the amount of thinking we have to do (referred to as cognitive load).  This increased amount of thinking often leads us to make more errors.
  • Secondly, if we have to do more thinking, there is more chance that we will become distracted, failing to ignore irrelevant features.  We tend to become drawn in by things which were not relevant to our original choice criteria.
  • Finally, when wading through a large array of options we have to spend more time making a choice. If we have limited time, then this will reduce our capacity to make a good choice.

So an abundance of choice can lead to problems, but do different types of people approach making choices differently?

Do people make choices in different ways?

PathDoc/Shutterstock
Source: PathDoc/Shutterstock

The answer to this is that they do.  I'm sure we've all gone shopping with a person who led us from store to store in an endeavour to find what they want by thoroughly searching through all available options before they buy.  These people appear to use onerous decision making processes, and they seem to do this more with a greater degree of choice. The whole process seems to take forever, but is this degree of deliberation actually worth it in the end?

Some sixty years ago, Herbert Simon (Simon, 1956) identified differences between people in how they come to decisions. Simon suggested that people who are maximizers strive to find the best option within a range of choices, and in so doing attempt to carry out as exhaustive a search as possible.  At the other end of the scale, satisficers merely try to obtain a ‘good enough’ option, which requires searching through an array of choice only until they find something reaches just the threshold of acceptability.  A person’s tendency to maximise or satisfice can be measured using items such as:

  • “When I’m shopping, I have a hard time finding clothes that I really love
  • “When I’m in the car listening to the radio, I often check other stations to see if something better is playing, even if I am relatively satisfied with what I’m listening to”

A person who strongly agrees with the above items has a tendency to maximise, and a person who disagrees strongly would be classed as a satisficer.

So how does all of this relate to online dating?

Online dating sites present us with a seemingly endless amount of choice of potential partners, and at first this array of choice may seem to be a good thing.  However, as was noted above, this may not be the case. 

However, does this degree of choice in online dating have a differential effect on the decision making strategies of maximizers and  satisficers?  This very question was investigated by Yang & Chiou (2010), who asked participants in their study to search for what they considered to be their most desirable romantic partner by employing a search tool from a dating website.  The participants were identified beforehand as being either maximizers or satisficers, and were then presented with either a large number of options or a small number of options.

The researchers found that when more options were available to participants, this led to more searching behaviour.  However, they also found that people who were maximisers tended to engage in more searching behaviour than satisficers, and that they did this regardless of the number of options available to them.  Therefore in online dating, we would expect maximizers to consider more choices.

In addition to the above findings, the 'more means worse' effect was evident for maximizers, more than for satisficers.  As noted earlier, maximizing entails engaging in an exhaustive search in an attempt to find the best possible option.  However, this kind of searching behaviour imposes a greater cognitive burden, meaning that maximizers are less likely to ignore irrelevant information and instead become embroiled in considering detail not pertinent to what they originally were searching for.  The ultimate consequence is that they end up not finding their best dating match.

Which is the best strategy?

Maximizing and satisficing strategies each have their advantages and disadvantages.  A Maximizer can potentially find a better option if they keep searching, while the downside is that they are more likely to make choice errors, become distracted and take longer to make a choice as the number of options increases.  Furthermore, they may become embroiled in a spiral of continually swapping one option for a more attractive one.  On the other hand, satisficers may not end up with such a good option as they may have got had they kept searching, but at least they are less easily distracted, and keep to their original choice criteria.  Which style are you?

References

  • Simon, H. A. (1956) Rational Choices and the Structure of the Environment, Psychological Review, 63(2), 129-138.
  • Yang, M. L. & Chiou, W. B. (2010) Looking Online for the Best Romantic Partner Reduces Decision Quality: The Moderating Role of Choice-Making Strategies  Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking, 13(2), 207-210.

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