All of Your Options

Forget the paradox of choice, seeing all your options at once may just make you happier with your choice. Or so says new research out of Stanford Business School. "... in the chocolate experiment, the researchers presented participants with detailed descriptions of fine chocolates (such as dark chocolate ganache with black tea and hints of citrus and vanilla), and asked them to choose which one they wanted to taste. The “simultaneous” group saw the whole list at once, whereas the “sequential” group saw one at a time and stopped once they saw a description of the chocolate they wanted to sample. After they had picked a chocolate and tasted it, participants in both groups filled out a short survey about their satisfaction with their chosen confection. The result: sequential choosers were less satisfied with their chocolates than were participants in the simultaneous group. And, when offered the opportunity to switch to a different chocolate — a randomly selected one, they were told — more of the sequential choosers opted to do so, even though they knew virtually nothing about it."

But why? In a sequential mode we are waiting for better options to come along though usually they don't. So how to mitigate this bias when many of our options are offered sequentially (e.g., boyfriends, jobs, investment opportunities)?

"One strategy Shiv advises is to mentally convert a sequential choice into a 'quasi-simultaneous' one by recalling past instances of the best options you ever chose or of options that, in hindsight, you regret passing over. Once you do that, you can compare your present option with those recalled, almost as if you had all your options before you at once."