It may seem liberating to live in a land of infinite choices, but research in decision-making suggests otherwise. In a classic study, Stanford researchers set up shop at an upscale grocery store chosen for its “extraordinary selection” of items, including 300 types of jam. One Saturday afternoon, they set up a sampling booth with 24 jams; on the next Saturday, they did the same but with just six jams.
They found that people did seem to like the idea of having a lot of choices: More customers approached the 24-jam booth than the six-jam one. But people visiting the 24-jam booth tended to try only one or two jams—the same number as people in the six-jam group. When it came to buying jam, people in the hella-jams condition shut down, exhibiting what researchers call choice paralysis; only 3 percent bought any jam, whereas 30 percent of people in the six-jam booth took home a jar. From this study, the researchers coined a theory, aptly called choice overload.
The same researchers ran a similar study with chocolates, where people were asked to choose just one chocolate from either 30 choices or six. They found that people in the 30-chocolate group were more likely to experience regret about the choice they made. Still more research has found that repeated decision-making also leads to decreased self-control.
Making decisions isn’t the only daily activity that can wear you down. It’s what youaren’t doing that can exhaust you, too. Maintaining self-control takes subconscious thought and effort—the box of donuts in the break room you’re resisting is a low-level distraction throughout your day. As one group of researchers put it: “Just as a muscle gets tired from exertion, acts of self-control cause short-term impairments in subsequent self-control.” Researchers call this ego depletion, referring to Freud’s “ego”: the moderate, socially acceptable version of ourselves that mediates between the superego and the id.
More here – Slate