Does Making Decisions Hurt Productivity?
During a recent trip to Las Vegas, I stood in front of a crowded vendor stand staring at a ridiculously wide variety of hooded sweatshirts. The heat of the day was fading to a cool evening, and I was starting to shiver in my flimsy t-shirt.
“Just pick one,” my boyfriend suggested.
But there were so many to choose from. Every conceivable color and style, emblazoned with dozens of different designs. Faced with so many choices, I found myself unable to decide which one I wanted.
This sort of consumer dilemma is something many deal with every day. Having many options to choose from may seem ideal, but previous research has shown that consumers often feel frustrated and overwhelmed by numerous alternatives.
In an earlier study, researchers Iyengar and Lepper (2000) discovered that consumers who faced more options (24 versus 6) often became less willing to buy anything at all. They also found that those who did end up purchasing something ended up being less satisfied with the items they chose. According to Vohs et al., these results suggest that when choice requires greater decision-making, it can become both burdensome and counterproductive.
A study published in the April 2008 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that having so many choices can actually make it difficult to stay on task and remain productive. The study began with 328 participants in a lab setting. Some individuals were asked to make decisions about consumer products, class materials and college courses, while others were simply instructed to consider the options. All participants were then asked to complete an unpleasant task, either finishing a healthy drink that tasted bad or putting their hands in ice water.
Researchers discovered that the participants who had previously made a decision had a more difficult time staying focused on the unpleasant task, while those who had simply considered the options were more productive.
Another experiment was conducted with 58 participants at a shopping mall. Individuals were questioned about the decisions they had made earlier in the day and were then asked to solve simple math problems. The results suggested that shoppers who had made more choices earlier scored worse on the math problems.
According to the authors, making decisions depletes important resources in the mind and impairs self-regulation, active initiative and self-control. The decisions we make everyday can range from the mundane (such as my hoodie dilemma) to complex life choices that have a long-ranging impact (i.e. school, career, work, family). There is a significant shift in the mental programming that is made at the time of choosing, whether the person acts on it at that time or sometime in the future. Therefore, simply the act of choosing can cause mental fatigue,” explains lead author Kathleen D. Vohs. “Making choices can be difficult and taxing, and there is a personal price to choosing.