Barry Schwartz of Swarthmore College differentiates two decision styles:
- “Maximizers”, who persistently seek “the best” by performing exhaustive comparative evaluations
- “Satisficers”, who quickly accept a “good enough” after a limited number of comparisons in The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less .
Satisficers tend to be more satisfied with decisions and take less time to take a choice — significant benefits in time-constrained work environments.
Conversely, “maximizers” can experience stress in a quest of the best available option, along with risking obsessional focus on a decision at the expense of “the bigger picture.”
Schwartz asserts that it is nearly impossible to reach this alleged ‘best’ result, given the abundant choices available for most things.
He suggests that people assess previous relevant experiences personally experienced or observed in others. After the experience, people typically compare the experience to hopes, expectations, and the actual event.
Schwartz thinks that people risk errors in comparisons because these are constructed from the most attractive parts of each potential outcomes, and may not actually exist.
He observed that when this occurs, any comparison to an idealized image is disappointing.
He suggests a “hedonic treadmill” in which things that were satisfactory in the past fail to satisfy a new, idealized standard.
Schwartz advises that a way off the treadmill is to differentiate what one actually needs from wants, and consciously moderating expectations and the pull to maximize most every outcome.
His recommended tactics guide people to:
- Adopt satisficing in low-stakes situations
- Beware of comparison and maximizing, common thinking errors
- Set and adhere to a deadline for the maximum time to take a decision.
Duke University’s Dan Ariely considered the ways emotion, social norms, and relative evaluations can shape and bias decisions in ways other than satisficing and maximizing:
- Relativity, or comparisons to contrast differences such as in price, quality, desirability.
As Sheena Iyengar noted, more choices do not result in greater satisfaction with selections
- Anchoring or fixating on any arbitrary starting point, such as price
- Free offers, more powerful than deep discounts
- Social norms, in which people may pay for services on one situation, but expect them as part of social reciprocity in another situation (such as staying at a hotel vs with friends or paying for pet-sitting services vs having a friend perform this services at no cost)
- Compliance pre-commitments and removing obstacles in advance
- Overvaluation of possessions, accomplishments
- Overvaluation of “optionality” or “keeping options open”
- Expectations, including perceptual heuristics like stereotypes
- Placebos, or inert agents
- Easy opportunity for non-compliance. Overcome by reference to shared ethical norms.
Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman added three decision biases in Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior:
- Loss aversion, leading to compensatory actions to avoid perceived loss
- Diagnosis bias, resulting in difficulty reevaluating initial impressions of a person or situation),
- “Chameleon effect” or “Zelig effect”, assuming arbitrarily-characteristics or implied expectations, as in the “Pygmalion effect”
Michael Shermer of Skeptic magazine added to the inventory of potential thinking errors that undermine people’s efforts to critically evaluate decisions and supporting evidence for arguments after he embraced fundamentalist Christianity, alien abductions, Ayn Rand, megavitamin therapy, and deep-tissue massage.
He adopted the motto “Cognite tute–think for yourself“ and asserts that people hold unfounded beliefs for:
- Immediate gratification
- Moral meaning
- Continuing hope
We might add to his list:
-*How do you balance Maximizing with Satisficing?
-*What tactics help monitor potential thinking biases and decision fallacies?
- Consider All Your Options at Once, Be Happier with Choices: Minimize “Quest for the Best” Bias
- Hypothetical Questions May Lead to Bias
- Detect and Mitigate Decision Biases
- Overcoming Decision Bias: Allure of “Availability Heuristic”, “Primacy Effect”
- Biases in Unconscious Automatic Mental Processing, and “Work-Arounds”
- Creating Productive Thought Patterns through “Thought Self-Leadership”
Blog: – Kathryn Welds | Curated Research and Commentary
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Love the cover of The Paradox and saw Dan’s book on my way through the airport. Great to see these themes knit together. Thank you! Jennifer
Thank you for your comment, Jennifer, and always interested in learning how you balance “Satisficing” with “Maximizing” expecially in work situations where quality and time are crucial constraints.
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