The Challenge of Choice

One would think that choice would be beneficial when deciding who to date, because the more options we have, the more discerning we can be. However, when we have too much choice, we may focus on the wrong aspects of a person, which results in problematic dating decisions.

The ability to make your own choices offers a certain amount of freedom and is often seen as beneficial. Choice provides us with freedom and autonomy. But having options is not always positive. Having too much choice may actually lead to undesirable outcomes. For example, “…as the number of choices people face keeps increasing, negative aspects of having a multitude of options begin to appear. As the number of choices grows further, the negatives escalate until, ultimately, choice no longer liberates, but debilitates”.1

The “paradox of choice” is used to illustrate that having too much choice makes it more difficult to come to a final decision. Researchers have noted that “… for certain individuals, adding more choices to an existing domain simply makes choice more difficult, as they feel pressure to choose the ‘best’ possible option from an overwhelming array of choices rather than simply settle for ‘good enough’.”1

An interesting study on speed dating illustrated just how this issue has played out. Researchers examined 1,868 females and 1,870 male speed daters.2 Their goal was to determine if people adopt different strategies when selecting mates based on the number of potential mates they had to choose from.

In this study, participants went on 3-minute mini dates and were then presented with online profiles which included information on their partners’ age, weight, height, educational attainment, religion, occupation, and smoking status. These profiles were provided to them 24-hours after the mini dates. Speed-dating events were considered small when participants had between 15 and 23 partners, and were classified as large when they had between 24 and 31 potential partners to choose from.

The results demonstrated that when participants were given more choice, in larger speed dating sessions, they spent less time focusing on mate characteristics which take time to evaluate, such as occupation and education. Instead, the daters with more choice focused on characteristics that were easier to assess, including height and weight.2 Therefore, in this case, too much choice made the daters less discerning of important characteristics of potential partners.

This scenario is also common with online dating and dating apps. These companies offer hundreds, if not thousands, of profiles to choose from. With all of these choices at our fingertips, we may be paying less attention to important characteristics, and instead may focus on easy-to-assess visual cues. In addition, the plethora of profiles may be making it more difficult to narrow down our dating pool and select a partner to go out with.

Use caution when swiping or scrolling through profiles, and be sure to focus on characteristics that are important to you. Assess your date’s potential and don’t get caught up in the process and be unable to choose a potential new beau to date.

This article is excerpted from a post on Psychology Today.

References

1Schwartz, B., & Ward, A. (2004). Doing better but feeling worse: The paradox of choice. In P. A. Linley & S. Joseph (Eds.), Positive psychology in practice (86-104). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
2Lenton, A. P., & Francesconi, M. (2010). How humans cognitively manage an abundance of mate options. Psychological Science, 21, 528-533. doi: 10.1177/0956797610364958

 

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