Barry Schwartz (psychologist)

American psychologist

Barry Schwartz (born August 15, 1946) is an American psychologist.

    Barry Schwartz
TED Talks, 2009


  • There is in American society, not only the the American society but more here than anywhere else, what I have come to call the official syllogism and this is a set of assumptions that we have about well-being and about how society should be organized that runs so deep that I think we don't realize we make them. And the only time you start to notice that you make them is when you can start to accumulate evidence that they are wrong. So what is this official syllogism?

    First, we all think that the more freedom people have, the more welfare they have. How could you think otherwise? This is [a] no-brainer. What argument could you make to suggest that there is anything wrong with this assumption?

    The second thing we think is that the more choice people have, the more freedom they have. What does freedom mean if not choice?

    • The Paradox of Choice, Google TechTalks (April 27, 2006)

The Paradox of Choice (2004)

: Why More Is Less
  • When people have no choice, life is almost unbearable. As the number of available choices increases... the autonomy, control and liberation... are powerful and positive. But as the number of choices keeps growing, negative aspects... begin to appear. As the... choices grow further, the negatives escalate until we become overloaded. At this point, choice no longer liberates, but debilitates. It might even be said to tyrannize.
  • [I]ncreased choice among goods and services may contribute little or nothing to the kind of freedom that counts. ...[I]t may impair freedom by taking time and energy we'd be better off devoting to other matters.
  • We would be better off if we embraced certain voluntary constraints on our freedom of choice... better off seeking what was "good enough" instead of... best... better off if we lowered our expectations... if... decisions were nonreversable... if we paid less attention to what others around us were doing.
  • Americans spend more time shopping than the members of any other society. ...more often than they go to houses of worship, and Americans now have more shopping centers than high schools. ...[P]eople are shopping more now but enjoying it less.
  • A large array of options may discourage customers because it forces an increase in the effort that goes into making the decision. ...[T]hinking about the attractions of some of the unchosen options detracts from the pleasure derived from the chosen one.
  • Filtering out extraneous information is one of the basic functions of our consciousness.
  • Much of human progress has involved reducing the time and energy [and] the number of processes... to obtain the necessities of life. ...In the past few decades, though, that long process of simplifying and bundling economic offerings has been reversed. Increasingly, the trend moves back toward time-consuming foraging behavior...
  • I am not suggesting that deregulation and competition in the telephone and power industries are bad things. ...But the problem is that state regulators aren't there anymore to make sure customers don't get ripped off. ...[E]ven if you keep what you've always had, you may end up paying substantially more ...
  • Responsibility for medical care has landed on the... patient with a resounding thud. ...The tenor of medical practice has shifted from... the all-knowing, paternalistic doctor... to one in which the doctor arrays the possibilities... along with the likely pluses and minuses... and the patient makes the choice.
  • Ask yourself what is the point of advertising prescription drugs... Clearly they... expect we will... demand that our doctors write the prescriptions.
  • [C]osmetic surgery is slowly shifting from being a procedure that people gossip about to being a commonplace tool for self-improvement.
  • The average American thirty-two-year-old has... worked for nine... companies. ...[J]ob-switching has become so natural that individuals that have worked for the same employer for five years are regarded with suspicion. ...[T]heir desirability or ambition is called into question ...
  • Identity is much less a thing people "inherit" than it used to be.
  • [C]hoice in many facets of our life has gone from implicit and often psychologically unreal to explicit and psychologically very real.
  • [W]e now face a demand to make choices that is unparalleled in human history.
  • Having too many choices produces psychological distress, especially when combined with regret, concern about status, adaptation, social comparison, and perhaps most important, the desire to have the best of everything—to maximize.
  • [W]hat is most important to us, most of the time, is not the objective results of a decision, but the subjective results.
  • [W]e must decide which choices in our lives really matter and focus our time and energy there, letting many other opportunities pass us by.
  • [W]hen face with overwhelming choice, we... become "pickers,"... we must be willing to rely on habits, customs, norms, and rules to make some decisions automatic.
  • [W]e should make an effort to limit how much we think about the attractive features of options we reject.
  • Agonizing over whether your love is "the real thing" or your sexual relationship above or below par, and wondering whether you could have done better is a prescription for misery. Knowing that you've made a decision choice that you will not reverse allows you to pour your energy into improving the relationship that you have rather than constantly second-guessing it.

The paradox of choice (2007)

TED Talks (July, 2005) Oxford, England. A source.
  • I want to start with what I call the official dogma... of all Western industrial societies... "If we are interested in maximizing the welfare of our citizens... maximize individual freedom. ...The way to maximize freedom is to maximize choice."
  • There was a time when I was a boy when you could get any kind of telephone service you wanted as long as it came from Ma Bell. You rented your phone, you didn't buy it. Once consequence of that... is that the phone never broke.
  • We almost have an unlimited variety of phones, especially in the world of cell phones. ...It is not possible to buy a cell phone that doesn't do too much.
  • It is no longer the case in the United States that you go to the doctor and the doctor tells you what to do. Instead... the doctor tells you "Well we could do A or we could do B. A has these benefits and these risks. B has these benefits and these risks. What do you want to do?" ...We call it patient autonomy... but what it really is, is a shifting of the burden and responsibility for decision making from somebody who knows something... to someone who knows nothing and is almost certainly sick, and thus not in the best shape to be making decisions...
  • There's enormous marketing of prescription drugs to people like you and me... They expect us to call our doctors... and ask for our prescriptions to be changed.
  • We are blessed... with the technology which enables us to work every minute of every day from any place on the planet... We have to make a decision again and again... about whether we should or shouldn't be working. ...and even if they're all shut off, every minute... we are asking ourselves, "Should I answer this cell phone call? Should I respond to this email? Should I draft this letter?" And even if the answer... is no, it's... going to make your experience... different...
  • [In] the world we used to live in... there were some choices, but not everything was a matter of choice, and the world we now live in looks like [The Ten Commandments Do-It-Yourself Kit]. Is this good news or bad news? [T]he answer is both.
  • If some of what enables people in our society to make all of the choices we make were shifted to societies in which people have too few options, not only would those people's lives be improved, but ours would be improved also. This is what economists call a Pareto improving move. Income redistribution will make everyone better off, not just poor people, because of how all of this excess choice plagues us.

See also