Made to Stick: Why some ideas take hold and others come unstuck

On giving people too much choice

Another study, conducted by Shafir and a colleague, Donald Redelmeier, demonstrates that paralysis can also be caused by choice. Imagine, for example, that you are in college and you face the following choice one evening. What would you do?

  1. Attend a lecture by an author you admire who is visiting just for the evening, or
  2. Go to the library and study.

Studying doesn’t look so attractive compared with a once in a life-time lecture. When this choice was given to actual college students only 21 percent decided to study.

Suppose, instead, you had been given three choices:

  1. Attend the lecture.
  2. Go to the library and study.
  3. Watch a foreign film that you’ve been wanting to see.

Does you answer differ? Remarkably, when a different group of students were given the three choices, 30 percent decided to study – double the number who did before. Giving students two good alternatives to studying rather than one paradoxically makes them less likely to choose either.

Excerpt from: Made to Stick: Why some ideas take hold and others come unstuck by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

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