The Situationist

Sheena Iyengar on “The Multiple Choice Problem”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 4, 2009

Sheena Iyengar is a professor in the Management Division of the Columbia Business School. One of the world’s experts on choice, Professor Iyengar received a dual degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1992, consisting of a B.S. in Economics from the Wharton School of Business and a B.A. in psychology with a minor in English from the College of Arts and Sciences. In 1997 she completed her Ph.D. in social psychology from Stanford University. Her dissertation, entitled “Choice and its Discontents,” received the prestigious Best Dissertation Award for 1998 from the Society of Experimental Social Psychology.  Since then, she has published many articles in academic journals and her research has been commonly cited in the popular media.  Iyengar is at work on a book exploring the mysteries of choice in everyday life.

At the third annual conference on Law and Mind Sciences, which took place im March of 2009, Professor Iyengar’s outstanding presentation was titled “The Multiple Choice Problem.”  Here’s the abstract:

It is a common supposition in modern society that the more choices, the better—that the human ability to manage, and the human desire for, choice is infinite. From classic economic theories of free enterprise, to mundane marketing practices that provide customers with entire aisles devoted to potato chips or soft drinks, to highly consequential life decisions in which people contemplate multiple options for medical treatment or investment opportunities for retirement, this belief pervades our institutions, norms, and customs. In this era of abundant choice, there are several dilemmas that people face: How do you choose given the sheer number of domains in which you now have the ability to choose? And in any given domain, what are the ramifications of being confronted with more options than ever before? In this talk, I will describe decisions we need to make that vary in significance from jams at a supermarket to life-or-death situations, looking at how the exercise of choosing and the availability of numerous options affect decision quality and happiness with the decision outcome.

You can watch her presentation on the four (roughly 9-minute) videos below.

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For more information about the Project on Law and Mind Sciences, click here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Can’t Get No Satisfaction!: The Law Student’s Job Hunt – Part II,” “Dan Gilbert on the Situation of Our Decisions,”and “Just Choose It!”  To review all of the Situationist posts that discuss the problem with, or illusion of, choices, click here.

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4 Responses to “Sheena Iyengar on “The Multiple Choice Problem””

  1. Ian Leslie said

    There’s evidence that questions the robustness of the jam study findings: http://bit.ly/W6zuE

  2. [...] of Choice,” “Sheena Iyengar’s Situation and the Situation of Choosing,” “Sheena Iyengar on ‘The Multiple Choice Problem,’” “Can’t Get No Satisfaction!: The Law Student’s Job Hunt – Part II,” “Dan [...]

  3. [...] Watch Part 1 [...]

  4. [...] Watch Part 1 [...]

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