Cognitive and Affective Consequences of Information and Choice Overload

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Abstract

When interviewed in 1992 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Nobel laureate Herbert Simondescribed a paradox at the heart of living in an economy that made every effort to design andproduce ever more “choice alternatives” but that simultaneously allocated very little energy toencouraging people to devote the attention and time actually required to choose. He gave theexample of a decision to buy a new house, commenting: “Before you even start the choice process,somebody has presented you with this, and this, and this house” (UBS, 1992).The overabundance of alternatives was lamented by Simon in 1992, when computing powerwas slower. It is all the more alarming in the modern and constantly connected world, whichnow has the internet, smartphones, apps, and tablets— all used to make a plethora of decisionsevery day.Nowadays, people receive information from ever- increasing and often simultaneous sources.The average US resident consumer views about 3,000 advertisements every day (Kardes, Cline,& Cronley, 2011) and while in the 1970s to the 1990s grocery stores in the United Statescarried around 7,000– 8,000 items, the variety has increased to 40,000– 50,000 items nowadays(Jacoby et al., 1974a; Malito, 2017), including around 285 varieties of cookies and 275 typesof cereal (Schwartz & Ward, 2004). The explosion of choice is not limited to retail either and has begun to permeate even people’s personal lives. A speed- dating event organized by China’sCommunist Youth League in 2017 was attended by about 5,000 young single people (Shim,2017). And in a world where the internet increases an individual’s access to information, itseems being surrounded by an overwhelming amount of information every day has becomethe new norm.The aim of this chapter is to examine this state of affairs. What is information and choiceoverload, and what are the cognitive and emotional consequences of this overload?Classical economics and psychology have argued that increased information and choice areoften desirable and lead to better outcomes (Steiner, 1970; Zuckerman, Porac, Lathin & Deci,1978; Walton & Berkowitz, 1979; Rolls et al., 1981; Deci & Ryan, 1985; Loewenstein, 1999;Ryan & Deci, 2000; Kahn & Wansink, 2004). However, theories of bounded and adaptive rationality posit the opposite (Simon, 1957 1991;Gigerenzer & Selten, 2002) and have beensupported by a large body of research. Extensive information and choice can be costly, demotivating,and unsatisfying (Miller, 1956; Newell & Simon, 1972; Jacoby, 1974; Malhotra, 1982;Iyengar & Lepper, 2000; Schwartz, 2004; Reutskaja & Hogarth, 2009; Grant & Schwartz,2011; Reutskaja, Nagel, Camerer, Rangel, 2018). They can result in what Schwartz (2000)has called a “tyranny of freedom.” However, using less information and making decisions basedon less information can lead to higher- quality outcomes. (For a review, see Gigerenzer &Gaissmaier, 2011.)
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospitehandbook of bounded rationality
Pagine625-636
Numero di pagine12
Stato di pubblicazionePublished - 2021

Serie di pubblicazioni

NomeROUTLEDGE INTERNATIONAL HANDBOOKS

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