The Tyranny of Choice: Barry Schwartz


In a classic demonstration of the power of sunk costs, people were offered season subscriptions to a local theater company. Some were offered the tickets at full price and others at a discount. Then the researchers simply kept track of how often the ticket purchasers actually attended the plays over the course of the season. Fullprice payers were more likely to show up at performances than discount payers. The reason for this, the investigators argued, was that the full-price payers would experience more regret if they did not use the tickets because not using the more costly tickets would constitute a bigger loss.


Alex C. Michalos of the University of Northern British Columbia has pointed out that all our evaluations of the things we do and buy depend on comparison — to past experiences, to what we were hoping for, and to what we expected. When we say that some experience was good, what we mean, in part, is that it was better than we expected it to be. So high expectations almost guarantee that experiences will fall short, especially for maximizers and especially when regret, opportunity costs, and adaptation do not factor into our expectations.

Addendum: For those of who prefer the visual, auditory, dynamic socratic method – Barry Schwartz’s TED talk