Cognitive Dissonance and The Choice Paradox
A powerful cause of dissonance is an idea in conflict with a fundamental element of the self-concept, such as “I am a good person” or “I made the right decision”. The anxiety that comes with the possibility of having made a bad decision can lead to rationalization, the tendency to create additional reasons or justifications to support one’s choices. A person who just spent too much money on a new car might decide that the new vehicle is much less likely to break down than his or her old car. This belief may or may not be true, but it would reduce dissonance and make the person feel better. Dissonance can also lead to confirmation bias, the denial of disconfirming evidence, and other ego defense mechanisms.
We want to personalize! We want the red convertible with the tan leather interior and the iPod hook-up, with custom rims. Green just won’t do! It’s this definitive decision that makes us happy, even ecstatic when we find the perfect [insert your idea of perfect here]. However, it is this same choice that can ruin an otherwise perfect experience.
Observed in many cases is the paradox that more choices may lead to a poorer decision or a failure to make a decision at all. It is sometimes theorized to be caused by analysis paralysis, real or perceived, or perhaps from rational ignorance. A number of researchers including Sheena S. Iyengar and Mark R. Lepper have published studies on this phenomenon. This analysis was popularized by Barry Schwartz in his 2004 book, The Paradox of Choice.
I Want More Options… No, You Don’t
We are very busy people, we have schedules to keep, places to be, things to do. We don’t always have a gratuitous amount of time to make an informed decision and rely on what we’re presented with to help us make that choice. User Interface Designers, UX Professionals and hopefully “decision makers” know the value of a persons time, and ensure choices are as simple as possible.
Consumers have been bred to think more is better. We’re all guilty of it in some way or another but the fact is, choice suppresses conversion. We are more likely to be unhappy with our decision if we have too many options to choose from.
Conclusion and Sources
Sometimes we can’t take away the number of options we’re asking the user to choose from. But we can try and solve for the best possible outcome. By giving the user a means to drill down their choices, or offering up a “Best Value” or “Popular Choice” we help minimize cognitive dissonance thus giving them a richer user experience.