People Fear Choice

 

shutterstock_152968568When a person is offered to choose between a pen and a pencil, 50% choose the pen.

But offer the same person the choice between 1 pen and 3 pencils and 80% choose the pen. If offered 1 pencil and 3 pens, 80% choose the pencil.

I think, writ small, this is precisely what lies behind the thinking of single women (who vote very strongly liberal), the Russian or Turkish or Venezuelan masses (who usually vote for bad strongmen), and even much of the American public (who vote liberal no matter how conservative they might be personally). People fear choices.

When given the option, people instinctively choose the path with the fewest unknowns. 

What was the scariest essay topic for most people? “Pick your own topic.” Students invariably prefer something very specific, something with less risk, fewer unknowns. Above all, fewer decisions.

I have argued in other threads that this same phenomenon helps explain why culture is inking up. Tattoos (among other things) help a person constrain who they are, limit the choices available to them. 

I think that Vampire-lit and Fifty Shades of Grey are both excellent examples of how people (women, especially) thrill to the idea of powerlessness, of not having to make decisions. Cosmo may give you 10 tips to drive you man crazy — but if you merely decide to be tied up, you won’t even have to decide which of the 10 to try!

And I see it in medical treatment as well. People often prefer to die a predictable path (with a doctor with whom they feel they have a good relationship) rather than try something that contains many unknowns. I know Canadians who have died because they refused all the medical pencil choices that awaited them over the border. In Canada they were offered a pen. And that was better, in their minds, than potentially-effective treatment that required some degree of initiative and decision-making.

We see middle class blacks who oppose SSM, who line up for days to attend charter schools, and who would seem to be natural conservatives – but who vote for Democrats. Every. Single. Time. And I think they do it because they feel, deep down, that it is a Big Bad World out there, and while they may want freedom to make some specific choices, they fear that there are countless other monsters out there who can only be tamed in a world with less freedom. This is one reason why demonizing business and white people and “the other” in general is so effective.

If all of the above is true, it leads to an obvious question: How do those of us who embrace freedom and a write-your-own-menu of choices help people to think of choices as inherently good things? How do we help people conquer their fears?

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  1. EThompson Inactive
    EThompson
    @EThompson

    If all of the above is true, it leads to an obvious question: How do those of us who embrace freedom and a write-your-own-menu of choices help people to think of choices as inherently good things? How do we help people conquer their fears?

    We collectively can’t do anything, but parents certainly can by raising children in a safe, healthy, and financially stable environment that provides an abundance of choices and encourages calculated risk as a positive thing. This is an annoyingly simple concept, yet seemingly difficult for many people to execute.

    • #1
  2. Kay of MT Inactive
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    You first have to convince them they are making bad choices, because they firmly believe they are making good choices. .

    • #2
  3. hawk@haakondahl.com Inactive
    hawk@haakondahl.com
    @BallDiamondBall

    I see that as another aspect of the GOP’s Loser Problem.  The current crop of GOP leadership was raised by those who endured forty years of minority status.  Their tactics, their comfort zone, and frankly, their home is in losing.  They don’t have to make choices.  All they have to do is gently criticize the left, use the brake pedal just firmly enough to get the stop lamp to go on, but not enough to slow the car, while protesting that they are doing all they can with “only one half of one third” of the controls.  One hard stab at that brake pedal would wake the whole tribe up, which they desperately wish to avoid.  If it is seen to be a simple thing to cut spending (and it is), then they will all be looking for work — er, no longer enjoying the magnificent perks of “serving” in office.

    People respond to incentives.  The GOP and the democrats rationally select their respective paths of maximum comfort.  The GOP are losers and the Alinskyites are fighters.  Conservatives and makers prefer order, while Progressives and takers prefer a lawless chaos.  Voters enjoy vigorous representation, and only one team delivers.

    • #3
  4. Xennady Member
    Xennady
    @

    I do not agree.

    Given the choice, people will always choose cash on the barrel head over nothing.

    And, to be blunt, nothing is generally what the GOP offers.

    For example, if you are an immigrant from Mexico, you can vote for the party that wants to give your family boku bucks via the welfare  state, or the party that offers you the opportunity to found your own billion dollar business. And you can still found your own billion dollar business if the democrats run things, especially since they won’t be interested in enforcing against you the million pages plus of expensive rules and regulations that hamstring any law-abiding American citizen.

    In other words, the GOP is worthless and irrelevant.

    People have noticed. 

    • #4
  5. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    EThompson: parents certainly can by raising children in a safe, healthy, and financially stable environment

     Hm. I might think the opposite.

    I think that children need exposure to risk, to know that it is not a frightening thing – it is just an absence of knowledge.

    I specifically work hard to keep my children insecure

    The people who built America were much less afraid of choice, and much more interested in opportunity. I doubt they were raised in safe, healthy and financially stable environments. Then, too, holocaust survivors and Jews from Arab lands who founded and built Modern Israel did not come from a safe world either. 

    • #5
  6. user_138562 Moderator
    user_138562
    @RandyWeivoda

    Making choices requires effort, and a lot of people prefer taking the easier path.  I like going to a restaurant that has a lot of choices on the menu but some people prefer going someplace where there are two or three choices so they don’t have to think so hard. 

    I work in a carpet store.  There are good reasons why a person might want to choose different carpets for different rooms.  Over 90% of customers who are doing a whole house will choose one carpet for the whole thing because 1.) that’s what everybody else does and 2.) it requires less decision-making.

    I’m sure some people find comfort in not having school choice because then you don’t have to make a choice.  You send your kids to the one school available to them and that’s that.  Shopping around for a health insurance policy among several compaines?  It’s sure easier to just take the plan that your employer has.  At first reading I was skeptical of your theory, iWc, but the more I think about it the more I think you’re onto something.

    • #6
  7. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    You have to walk people into choices if the terrain is unfamiliar.  One of our products is a customized solid-state low-voltage power disconnect switch.  A customer calls and tries to order one and we start asking questions:

    What is your cutoff voltage?  Do you need a timer function?  How Long?  Do you have a secondary threshold?  What is your amperage?

    Too much because they don’t know their own systems at all.  They don’t know what the right drop voltage is, much less if they need a timer, heck they don’t know if their loads are drawing 50 amps or 500 amps.

    Now if I offer modules with set functions like a menu, they will gravitate towards one of these because they just have no idea what they need.  Once they’ve tried a standard one, THEN you offer the fuller menu of options.

    • #7
  8. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    iWc, my folks *required* me to take manageable risks throughout my growing up…Boy, am I grateful!

    • #8
  9. EThompson Inactive
    EThompson
    @EThompson

    iWc:

    EThompson: parents certainly can by raising children in a safe, healthy, and financially stable environment

    Hm. I might think the opposite.

    I think that children need exposure to risk, to know that it is not a frightening thing – it is just an absence of knowledge.

    I specifically work hard to keep my children insecure.

    The people who built America were much less afraid of choice, and much more interested in opportunity. I doubt they were raised in safe, healthy and financially stable environments. Then, too, holocaust survivors and Jews from Arab lands who founded and built Modern Israel did not come from a safe world either.

    You are comparing current American society to extreme circumstances; also, remember that many who survived the Holocaust were, at one time, prosperous and educated citizens in their home countries.

    I found that my positive family upbringing laced with plenty of expectations and a healthy dose of shame for squandering opportunity gave a great boost to my confidence and drive once I left the nest.

    • #9
  10. user_1938 Inactive
    user_1938
    @AaronMiller

    Good post.

    I agree with EThompson. But we should also recognize that this involves hard-wired personality types and not just conditioning. Not everyone is daring and adventurous. Not everyone wonders what they are missing from life and constantly strives for more. Some people are easily contented. Some are non-competitive. Some prefer familiarity and aren’t excited by innovations.

    In game design, this is an old challenge. A wide variety of options can expand the product’s audience, but only if the less daring consumers aren’t intimidated by all the choices. Game designers usually address this by offering generally structured archetypes which players can tweak if and when they want to. I’m not sure how to apply that to Republican pitches, though.

    • #10
  11. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Aaron Miller: Not everyone wonders what they are missing from life and constantly strives for more. Some people are easily contented. Some are non-competitive. Some prefer familiarity and aren’t excited by innovations.

     You could elaborate further by saying “Not everyone wonders what they are missing from life in every aspect of their lives, or strives for improvement in all things.”

    We push boundaries in some areas but not in others.  I’m fine with studying a multitude of insurance plans and minutia of paperwork, I’m fine with ripping out my own kitchen cabinets to put in new plumbing and wiring, I’m fine with wiring my stereo and programming my remote.  I’ll tear apart a computer to fix it, and even change the oil in my car.

    But I cannot stand going into a Costco.  I get claustrophobic.  I panic.  I know they have a wonderful variety of cheeses and wines but I get paralyzed with indecision in the midst of the noise, the horrid lighting, the echoes, and the crowds.  The presentation of that store is the worst possible method for me to shop.  I’ll pay more for less choice to avoid it.

    • #11
  12. EThompson Inactive
    EThompson
    @EThompson

    Aaron Miller:

    But we should also recognize that this involves hard-wired personality types and not just conditioning. Not everyone is daring and adventurous. Not everyone wonders what they are missing from life and constantly strives for more. Some people are easily contented. Some are non-competitive. Some prefer familiarity and aren’t excited by innovations.

     

    I agree and I think that’s a good thing; imagine if this world was comprised entirely of type A personalities? I interpreted this post to mean that the world could perhaps use just a few more. :)

    • #12
  13. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    skipsul: going into a Costco.  I get claustrophobic.  I panic.

    Funny. That is how I feel about all malls, and Manhattan. I don’t have any problem with choice. I have a problem with too much stimulus.

    The only stimulus I seem to be able to handle in massive quantities is that of children playing. I have been known to take wonderful naps in the middle of jungles of children playing/squealing/screaming. 

    • #13
  14. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    iWc:

    skipsul: going into a Costco. I get claustrophobic. I panic.

    Funny. That is how I feel about all malls, and Manhattan. I don’t have any problem with choice. I have a problem with too much stimulus.

    The only stimulus I seem to be able to handle in massive quantities is that of children playing. I have been known to take wonderful naps in the middle of jungles of children playing/squealing/screaming.

     I think the stimulus problem is key to understanding choice decisions though.  To take your pen/pencil exercise, what if you broke the problem down differently?  I’ve seen my business partners go into fevered panics during insurance renewal times because they can’t read the charts from the broker.  I take that data now, go back and redo it for the way we need to see it, then present it again.  I also do it without the broker present, as his person triggers this same feeling of panic.

    It’s not that people always fear choice per se, it’s that they are overstimulated by the choice process.  We panic, grab the 50gal drum of ketchup, and miss the wines and cheeses.

    • #14
  15. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    skipsul: It’s not that people always fear choice per se, it’s that they are overstimulated by the choice process.  We panic, grab the 50gal drum of ketchup, and miss the wines and cheeses.

     I think I disagree. Choice is not merely about sorting and prioritizing. It is about being interested in making decisive decisions.

    Go back to the most sexist of my arguments: that women thrill to Vampire-lit and Fifty Shades because in both those worlds, women are subjects and not directly in control. They like the idea of being wanted for who they are not what they choose to do. What convenient bliss! 

    Or go back to men: Some 30% of soldiers are paralyzed by indecision the first time they come under fire. They would rather, at some level, die as a result of inaction rather than make a decision that commits them. This is one reason why soldiers drill and drill and drill: to learn to see movement and action and decision-making as an acceptable risk.  Or at least, instinctively follow the leader. 

    • #15
  16. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    iWc: And I think they do it because they feel, deep down, that it is a Big Bad World out there, and while they may want freedom to make some specific choices, they fear that there are countless other monsters out there who can only be tamed in a world with less freedom.

    This seems like a bit of a leap that you don’t really provide any evidence for.  Do you think people who vote Democrat perceive themselves as voting for less choice?

    Wouldn’t they claim they opposite?  If they fear freedom, why do they talk about “freedom to marry” and portray conservatives as wanting to tell them how to live and take away their birth control?  If they fear choices, why do they label their own position on abortion “pro-choice?”

    • #16
  17. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    Joseph Stanko: Wouldn’t they claim they opposite?  …  If they fear choices, why do they label their own position on abortion “pro-choice?”

    One of the reasons people fear choices is because they know there are consequences to making good and bad decisions. And they know that any real choice means that change is coming – one way or another. This is why indecision is the default position – because change is feared, and so choices are postponed.

    Liberal language on choice is classic double-speak. Real choice means being responsible for the choices that one makes. People who vote “pro-choice” are not in favor of choice, not at all.  They are voting *against* changes in their life (like a new lifeform that is a result of their actions). They are opposed to being held responsible for their choices. They are using “choice” as a cover for what is actually a deep-seated desire to avoid growing up, to avoid being held responsible for their actions.

    People are children. They crave limits.

    • #17
  18. Xennady Member
    Xennady
    @

     

    Joseph Stanko:

    This seems like a bit of a leap that you don’t really provide any evidence for. Do you think people who vote Democrat perceive themselves as voting for less choice?

     Great point.

    They aren’t voting for less choice. They’re voting for a cornucopia of free stuff provided by other people, which greatly enhances their own personal set of choices, at the expense of others.

    But it works for them.  For example a woman can choose to kill her baby, for any reason or no reason at all, or keep it, and be heftily rewarded by the state.

    That person has no reason to fear choice, because either option is swell.

    Go ahead and call that person a child, because I’m sure that will win elections for the GOP, just like Mitt Romney’s infamous 47% remark won him the White House- oh wait…

    • #18
  19. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    Xennady:

    I do not agree.

    Given the choice, people will always choose cash on the barrel head over nothing.

    And, to be blunt, nothing is generally what the GOP offers.

    For example, if you are an immigrant from Mexico, you can vote for the party that wants to give your family boku bucks via the welfare state, or the party that offers you the opportunity to found your own billion dollar business. And you can still found your own billion dollar business if the democrats run things, especially since they won’t be interested in enforcing against you the million pages plus of expensive rules and regulations that hamstring any law-abiding American citizen.

    In other words, the GOP is worthless and irrelevant.

    People have noticed.

     Harsh, but uncomfortably close to the mark.

    • #19
  20. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    iWc: iWc skipsul: It’s not that people always fear choice per se, it’s that they are overstimulated by the choice process.  We panic, grab the 50gal drum of ketchup, and miss the wines and cheeses.  I think I disagree. Choice is not merely about sorting and prioritizing. It is about being interested in making decisive decisions.

     I think there is some truth both ways on this.  People fear change of any sort.  I can think of elderly relatives who stubbornly cling to VHS systems because they refuse to attempt to master a new TV remote.  I can think of business executives who stubbornly cling to outdated and badly patched software because they are terrified of learning a new system.  By deciding to NEVER change, to freeze their lives in some perceived island of stability, they have chosen.  They choose a reality they control, not because they necessarily fear choice, but because they fear the unknown.

    To return to your scenario, they choose neither the pen nor the pencil, because to choose either would have consequences they cannot foresee.  You tell them that either is better than their chalk and slate, but they stick to what they know.

    • #20
  21. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    skipsul: To return to your scenario, they choose neither the pen nor the pencil, because to choose either would have consequences they cannot foresee.  You tell them that either is better than their chalk and slate, but they stick to what they know.

     This goes a long way to explain the Democrat lock on minorities – they can continue in a time freeze, despite whatever promises of future prosperity or improvement.  They can continue to have the same prejudices, the same enemies, the same allies, the same set of decisions.  It’s not choice alone they fear, it’s change.

    Our opponents continue to promise more of the same – more largesse, more benefits, more attacks on their enemies, and the bills never coming due.

    • #21
  22. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    skipsul:

    skipsul: To return to your scenario, they choose neither the pen nor the pencil, because to choose either would have consequences they cannot foresee. You tell them that either is better than their chalk and slate, but they stick to what they know.

    This goes a long way to explain the Democrat lock on minorities – they can continue in a time freeze, despite whatever promises of future prosperity or improvement. They can continue to have the same prejudices, the same enemies, the same allies, the same set of decisions. It’s not choice alone they fear, it’s change.

    Our opponents continue to promise more of the same – more largesse, more benefits, more attacks on their enemies, and the bills never coming due.

    Exactly, why do you think so many legacy Democrats in the South had to die out rather than change parties? They agreed with practically everything the Republicans were selling, but dammit, they’re a Democrat.

    • #22
  23. Owen Findy Member
    Owen Findy
    @OwenFindy

    “If all of the above is true, it leads to an obvious question: How do those of us who embrace freedom and a write-your-own-menu of choices help people to think of choices as inherently good things? How do we help people conquer their fears?”

    Very good question.  I wonder if people (it may have to be from an early age) can be taught to prefer choice.  If, e.g., liberty-lovers had control of the culture and the schools for a couple generations, could we end up with a majority of liberty-lovers?

    • #23
  24. thelonious Member
    thelonious
    @thelonious

    Do people choose the pencil because it’s the scarcest resource?

    • #24
  25. user_657161 Inactive
    user_657161
    @SimonTemplar

    Maybe it is not the fear of choosing but the inability to think (analytically and/or critically) about the choices and options available.  It seems to me that few Americans, outside of our magnificent Ricochet community, can actually think for themselves these days.  I suppose that I would not want to make too many hard choices either if I didn’t know how to weigh my options.  The pity and shame of this is that the inability to think is being and has been “taught” at our public schools by design in order for the Ruling Class to better control the Country Class.

    No  iWc, for those of us who were taught to think for ourselves – choices are the spice of life.   

    • #25
  26. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    Here are my suggestions:

    1. Accept that most people will not respond well to a broad array of choices, then tailor policy priorities accordingly. The long lists of initiatives paraded out by politicians are aimed at interest groups, not the people. To break through, right-leaning politicians must avoid the laundry list approach when talking to voters.
    2. To that end, the right must focus on a few policies. In other words, we ourselves must choose. Emulating the progressives by trotting out 57-point programs or indulging in a cacophony of ideas hasn’t cut it. Let’s pick a few things and get on with it.
    3. These policies should be ones that flatter the public’s ability to choose or attack problems that restrict that ability. I suggest that a reform of crony industries (which rely on arcane knowledge of regulations to baffle the public), an attack on the tax code’s complexity, and devolution of school control and choice are three good places to start.
    • #26
  27. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    thelonious:

    Do people choose the pencil because it’s the scarcest resource?

    Great point.  Or perhaps they assume that the total value of the two packages must be similar, therefore you’re offering a choice between a high-quality pencil vs. 3 cheap shoddy pens, so they choose the (perceived) higher-quality item.

    • #27
  28. user_521196 Member
    user_521196
    @OnlinePark

    When our children were entering high school I used to say that the biggest decision they had was what to wear today. They hadn’t even had to go through a divorce. We wanted to put them into uncomfortable situations so that we could assist them in problem solving. My husband and I quit our well paying jobs, cashed in our pensions, rented out house and took them out of school and traveled together for 3 years, doing school as correspondence courses. We gave them one years notice about this.

    They are adults with their own children now but I have never regretted this decision on our part. I don’t however know if it made them more comfortable with choice than they might otherwise have been.

    The only concrete positive outcome was that we, as parents were our children’s associates during the teen years and had a great time together.

    • #28
  29. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    iWc: Liberal language on choice is classic double-speak.

    Agreed.  My point is that liberals co-opt the language of “choice” and “freedom” because voters agree those are good things.

    • #29
  30. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Mike H:

    skipsul:

    This goes a long way to explain the Democrat lock on minorities – they can continue in a time freeze, despite whatever promises of future prosperity or improvement. They can continue to have the same prejudices, the same enemies, the same allies, the same set of decisions. It’s not choice alone they fear, it’s change.

    Our opponents continue to promise more of the same – more largesse, more benefits, more attacks on their enemies, and the bills never coming due.

    Exactly, why do you think so many legacy Democrats in the South had to die out rather than change parties? They agreed with practically everything the Republicans were selling, but dammit, they’re a Democrat.

    By the way. I don’t think the Democratic stranglehold on blacks will last, but just like “the South” it will take time. I think people will feel less and less constrained by their race as time goes on and think more and more for themselves. Turns out there’s already some evidence of this.

    The GOP Can Attract Young Black Voters—And Already Has http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/gop-can-attract-young-black-voters-and-already-has_802857.html

    • #30
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