The Paradox Of Choice

In 2004 American psychologist Barry Schwartz published his book called The Paradox of Choice – Why More is Less, where he argued that eliminating consumer choices was actually a good thing as it greatly reduced anxiety for consumers.

“Autonomy and Freedom of choice are critical to our well-being, and choice is critical to freedom and autonomy. Nonetheless, consumers today have more choice than any group of people ever has before, and thus, presumably, more freedom and autonomy, we don’t seem to be benefiting from it psychologically.“  Barry argued.  Whilst his text made references to consumers throughout the book, it is clear that deep down he was actually basing his research on the spiralling football transfer market.

Schwartz espoused the concept of voluntary simplicity, where we only have a small number of choices in life and immediately you can see he is referring to the majority of Non-League football clubs, who simply do not have the resources to be able to pick and choose the players they want.  We often refer to this as Hobson’s Choice, named after Thomas Hobson (1544–1631), a livery stable owner in Cambridge, England, who offered customers the choice of either taking the horse in his stall nearest to the door or taking none at all. Choice in this instance meaning there isn’t really one.

The concept of the Transfer Window in the world-wide professional game was supposed to reduce the stress and burden on clubs but all that it has done is concentrate the wheeler-dealings into two small windows.  Clubs struggling in the first half of the season put all of their hopes in the January Transfer Window but are often frustrated by rising prices because the selling clubs know they are desperate based on their league position.  The Paradox of Choice is seen in full effect where there are often far too many options but too few genuine choices.  Unless a club is prepared with their player targets AND has the necessary cash to negotiate they simply will not be able to see the wood for the trees and will often end up with a player they didn’t want, or consider, in the first place.

Schwartz’ research found that when people are faced with having to choose one option, or player out of many desirable options, they will naturally consider the trade-offs mentally before making their decision and they will think in terms of the value of the missed opportunities rather than the value the potential choice will bring.

Every week Non-League managers have to make a choice between putting a substitute keeper on the bench or an outfield player.  It had been over three years since Lewes needed to use a sub keeper.  If we only had a squad of 16 players then he wouldn’t have to make that difficult decision – it’s not like he has to play everyone on the bench. But most Non-League squads are in the 20’s and so there is always a choice. There is an argument based on the Paradox of Choice that if you only had a squad of 16 it would be less stressful come match day, assuming you remained injury-free and had a first team who were angels.

Schwarz’s theory has been debunked by a number of further studies, suggesting the complete opposite, that more choices make people happier.  But if you knew the back story about his research you’d understand it was all about football anyway.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s