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BOZTEPE: You can fight back against choice overload

Column: Kaanotations

Kaan Jon Boztepe is a School of Arts and Sciences senior double majoring in philosophy and history. His column, "Kaanotations," runs on alternate Tuesdays.
Kaan Jon Boztepe is a School of Arts and Sciences senior double majoring in philosophy and history. His column, "Kaanotations," runs on alternate Tuesdays.

Choice overload is a cognitive process in which people begin to have a strenuous time-making decision since they have so many options. Similar to the modern day swipe left/right addiction, choice overload is a dangerous function that blurs our ability to see clearly and think comprehensively when forming final decisions.  

Due to humans' ability to be self-aware of their experiences and choices, such as the amount of subjects we can major in or the amount of workforces there are, we tend to fall into a hole where we continue to ask ourselves: “Have I made the right choice”? Throughout this article, I will break down how we can deal with choice overload. 

The best way to deal with choice overload is to shorten the list. Ask yourself what the must haves are from whatever you are considering, whether it be the must haves of a car, must haves of a career or even in the search for a significant other. 

Be aware that keeping your options too wide will only lead to a constant struggle and headache. Try to put some standards or must haves in your list, as this structure will easily eliminate close to half of the options available. 

To expand, many large companies are already aware of choice overload and use it to their benefit. If we look at Volkswagen for example, it has five car types that it sells. The purpose behind this is to not overload the consumer, so that once they agree to 1 out of the 5 cars, let us say Golf wagons, they come in six different variations even though they are all Golf’s wagons. 

The reason this works is because the consumer has already committed to one main model, so only the details and quality of the car changes, but the main assets of the Golf stay the same in each variation. 

We would assume that having more options would make us happier and feel more relaxed when choosing something, but it is actually paradoxical because too many choices lead to a person’s happiness going down, due to the chance you are missing out on the best option. 

I believe the reason that less options, or options chosen out of specific attributes set by you prior to your shopping, are helpful because it gives people a sense of control in a situation which in turn would increase the brain’s reward center, the dopamine system.

Simply put, choice overload can be counteracted by simplifying the amount of options you have by creating guidelines to anything from your purchases to your relationships. If you make a list about what you want from a car, you can do the same from what you want from a relationship, friendship, clothing and more. 

Remind yourself how much you really need something, regardless of if you are comfortable financially or not, for the sake of decreasing the unnecessary stress that comes with no regulations on your options.

Many of these issues with choice overload came with the attributions of modern technology. From the ease of accessing information, products, possible significant others and more, we fall into a rabbit hole of constant comparisons between something as banal as picking a white undershirt because the reviews on Macy’s are different from the reviews on American Apparel’s website. 

This might seem to be a silly example, but choices as small as this can lead to cognitive dissonance which is the experience of psychological stress that occurs when a person has conflicting beliefs, which causes the person making the choice to feel less motivated to make whichever decision they have to. 

Interestingly, the negatives of choice overload are usually reversed when we make a choice for another person. Since the choice does not directly affect you, the “risk” factor dissipates, and you are able to look more clearly to what would be in the best interest for your friend. 

The key to handling choice overload is to try to be retrospective and treat yourself how you would treat your friend when making the final decision, while also creating a must-haves list that are non-negotiable for the sake of limiting the amount of options presented to you. 

Choose your goal: Decide on what key attributes you are looking for and remind yourself why. Reverse roles: Choose your final option with the lens of as if you are shopping for your friend and have their best interest and specific attributes they have in mind. Experiment: You should still review other options and be open to changing your attributes and revising your list of must haves. 

Kaan Jon Boztepe is a School of Arts and Sciences senior double majoring in philosophy and history. His column, "Kaanotations," runs on alternate Tuesdays.  


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