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Can people feel worse off as the options they face increase? The present studies suggest that some people--maximizers--can. Study 1 reported a Maximization Scale, which measures individual differences in desire to maximize. Seven samples revealed negative correlations between maximization and happiness, optimism, self-esteem, and life satisfaction, and positive correlations between maximization and depression, perfectionism, and regret. Study 2 found maximizers less satisfied than nonmaximizers (satisficers) with consumer decisions, and more likely to engage in social comparison. Study 3 found maximizers more adversely affected by upward social comparison. Study 4 found maximizers more sensitive to regret and less satisfied in an ultimatum bargaining game. The interaction between maximizing and choice is discussed in terms of regret, adaptation, and self-blame.
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Maximizing Versus Satisficing: Happiness Is a Matter of Choice
Barry Schwartz and Andrew Ward
Swarthmore College John Monterosso
University of Pennsylvania
Sonja Lyubomirsky
University of California, Riverside Katherine White and Darrin R. Lehman
University of British Columbia
Can people feel worse off as the options they face increase? The present studies suggest that some
people—maximizers—can. Study 1 reported a Maximization Scale, which measures individual differ-
ences in desire to maximize. Seven samples revealed negative correlations between maximization and
happiness, optimism, self-esteem, and life satisfaction, and positive correlations between maximization
and depression, perfectionism, and regret. Study 2 found maximizers less satisfied than nonmaximizers
(satisficers) with consumer decisions, and more likely to engage in social comparison. Study 3 found
maximizers more adversely affected by upward social comparison. Study 4 found maximizers more
sensitive to regret and less satisfied in an ultimatum bargaining game. The interaction between maxi-
mizing and choice is discussed in terms of regret, adaptation, and self-blame.
Rational choice theory has tried to explain preference and
choice by assuming that people are rational choosers (von Neu-
mann & Morgenstern, 1944). According to the rational choice
framework, human beings have well-ordered preferences—prefer-
ences that are essentially impervious to variations in the way the
alternatives they face are described or the way in which they are
packaged or bundled. The idea is that people go through life with
all their options arrayed before them, as if on a buffet table. They
have complete information about the costs and benefits associated
with each option. They compare the options with one another on a
single scale of preference, or value, or utility. And after making the
comparisons, people choose so as to maximize their preferences,
or values, or utilities.
Although the science of economics has historically depended on
the tenets of rational choice theory, it is now well established that
many of the psychological assumptions underlying rational choice
theory are unrealistic and that human beings routinely violate the
principles of rational choice (e.g., J. Baron, 2000; Kahneman &
Tversky, 1979, 1984; Tversky, 1969; Tversky & Kahneman, 1981;
for a discussion, see Schwartz, 1986, 1994). In particular, modern
behavioral economics has acknowledged that the assumption of
complete information that characterizes rational choice theory is
implausible. Rather than assuming that people possess all the
relevant information for making choices, choice theorists treat
information itself as a “commodity,” something that has a price (in
time or money), and is thus a candidate for consumption along
with more traditional goods (e.g., Payne, 1982; Payne, Bettman, &
Johnson, 1993).
Almost a half century ago, Simon (1955, 1956, 1957) suggested
an approach to explaining choice that was more cognizant of
human cognitive limitations than rational choice theory. Simon
argued that the presumed goal of maximization (or optimization) is
virtually always unrealizable in real life, owing both to the com-
plexity of the human environment and the limitations of human
information processing. He suggested that in choice situations,
people actually have the goal of “satisficing” rather than maximiz-
ing. To satisfice, people need only to be able to place goods on
some scale in terms of the degree of satisfaction they will afford,
and to have a threshold of acceptability. A satisficer simply en-
counters and evaluates goods until one is encountered that exceeds
the acceptability threshold. That good is chosen. In subsequent,
accidental encounters with other goods in the relevant domain, the
scale of acceptability enables one to reject a formerly chosen good
for a higher ranked one should that one turn up. A satisficer thus
often moves in the direction of maximization without ever having
it as a deliberate goal. Simon’s alternative to rational choice theory
questions not only the processes by which options are assessed and
choices made, but also the motives that underlie choice. To satis-
fice is to pursue not the best option, but a good enough option.
Can There Be Too Much Choice?
There is no question that greater choice can provide benefits for
the chooser. Indeed it is axiomatic in rational choice theory that
Barry Schwartz and Andrew Ward, Department of Psychology, Swarth-
more College; John Monterosso, Department of Psychology, University of
Pennsylvania; Sonja Lyubomirsky, Department of Psychology, University
of California, Riverside; Katherine White and Darrin R. Lehman, Depart-
ment of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British
Columbia, Canada.
This research was facilitated by support from the Positive Psychology
Network (M. Seligman, Director), an intramural grant from Swarthmore
College to Barry Schwartz, a sabbatical grant from the Solomon Asch
Center for Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict to Andrew Ward, an intramural
grant from the University of California to Sonja Lyubomirsky, a Social
Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) doctoral fellowship
to Katherine White, and grants from SSHRC and the Natural Sciences and
Engineering Research Council to Darrin R. Lehman.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Barry
Schwartz, Department of Psychology, Swarthmore College, 500 Col-
lege Avenue, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania 19081. E-mail: bschwar1@
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Copyright 2002 by the American Psychological Association, Inc.
2002, Vol. 83, No. 5, 1178–1197 0022-3514/02/$5.00 DOI: 10.1037//0022-3514.83.5.1178
people cannot have too many options. If, for example, one is trying
to decide between two models of a CD player, and then discovers
that a third model also is available, the third model may be just the
thing one is after. If not, one can simply go back to deliberating
between the first two. And one can always ignore the new, third
option altogether. So it seems irrational to perceive oneself as
worse off as a result of added possibilities for choice. Nonetheless,
there is now a small body of evidence suggesting that added
options are a mixed blessing (e.g., Simenson & Tversky, 1992;
Tversky & Shafir, 1992). Results have begun to appear in the
decision-making literature indicating that adding options can make
a choice situation less rather than more attractive for peoplethat
indeed, sometimes people prefer it if others make the choices for
them (Beattie, Baron, Hershey, & Spranca, 1994).
In one series of studies (Iyengar & Lepper, 2000; see also
Iyengar & Lepper, 1999), participants were more likely to pur-
chase exotic jams or gourmet chocolates when they had 6 options
from which to choose than when they had 24 or 30, respectively.
And perhaps more importantly, those with fewer options expressed
greater satisfaction with the choices they made. Similarly, univer-
sity students were more likely to write an extracredit essay, and
wrote better essays, when they had 6 topics to choose from than
when they had 30. Iyengar and Lepper suggested several possible
factors that may underlie this effect. One is the avoidance of
potential regret. The more options there are, the more likely one
will make a nonoptimal choice, and this prospect may undermine
whatever pleasure one gets from ones actual choice. There is
ample evidence that regret aversion is a potent force in decision
makingperhaps even more potent than the loss aversion that has
been a significant feature of Kahneman and Tverskys (1979)
prospect theory of decision making (Beattie et al., 1994; Bell,
1982, 1985; Larrick & Boles, 1995; Loomes & Sugden, 1982;
Ritov, 1996; Simenson, 1992; Zeelenberg, 1999; Zeelenberg &
Beattie, 1997; Zeelenberg, Beattie, van der Pligt, & de Vries, 1996;
Zeelenberg et al., 1998).
A second factor that may make increased choice unattractive is
that it creates a seemingly intractable information problem. It is
hard enough to gather information and go through the deliberations
needed to make the best choice among 6 options. To choose the
best among 30 options is truly daunting. So rather than even try,
people may disengage, choosing almost arbitrarily to complete the
process. As a result of this disengagement, many of the psycho-
logical processes that normally are recruited to enhance the attrac-
tiveness of the choices one makes may not be operative (see
Gilovich & Medvec, 1995, for an account of some of these
processes, in the context of their theory of regret).
Maximizing, Satisficing, and Choice
Schwartz (2000) recently argued that the proliferation of options
can have a variety of negative effects on well-being. He suggested
that as options are added within a domain of choice, three prob-
lems materialize. First, there is the problem of gaining adequate
information about the options to make a choice. Second, there is
the problem that as options expand, peoples standards for what is
an acceptable outcome rise. And third, there is the problem that as
options expand, people may come to believe that any unacceptable
result is their fault, because with so many options, they should be
able to find a satisfactory one. Similar problems arise as choice
becomes available in domains in which previously there was no
choice. No matter how dissatisfied one is with ones telephone
service, if phone service is provided by a regulated monopoly, one
cannot do better, and inadequate service is not ones fault. How-
ever, when choice of phone service becomes available, there is no
longer any reason to tolerate inadequate service, and failure to
obtain adequate service is ones responsibility. Schwartz (2000)
suggested that people might in general be better off with con-
strained and limited choice than with unconstrained choice.
However, expanded opportunities for choice need not have these
negative psychological effects. Consider the different effects that
an expanding array of options might have on two people, one of
whom aims to maximize his or her outcomes in that domain and
one of whom aims to satisfice. For the maximizer, added options
pose problems. One cannot be sure that one is making the maxi-
mizing choice without examining all the alternatives. And if it is
impossible or impractical to examine all the alternatives, then
when the maximizer gives up the search and chooses, there will be
a lingering doubt that he or she could have done better by search-
ing a bit more. Thus, as options proliferate, the likelihood of
achieving the goal of maximization goes down. Further, the po-
tential for regret is ever present, because the question the maxi-
mizer is asking him- or herself is not is this a good outcome?but
is this the best outcome?.
Expanded opportunities for choice may have different effects on
the satisficer. The satisficer is looking for something that crosses
the threshold of acceptabilitysomething that is good enough.
Adding options in a domain in which the satisficer has already
encountered something good enough need have no effect; the new
options may simply be ignored. With good enoughrather than
the bestas a criterion, the satisficer will be less inclined to
experience regret if it turns out that an option better than the
chosen one was available. And if no satisfactory option has been
encountered in a domain, added options will provide new possi-
bilities for finding something that crosses the good enough
threshold. Thus, the risk of being made worse off by added options
may be minimal for satisficers.
Are some people maximizers and others satisficers? Do people
differ in the nature of the goals they pursue in choice situations?
And if so, do people also differ in their sensitivity to potential
regret? Is it concern about potential regret that influences some
people to be maximizers? We addressed these questions in the
present series of studies by creating survey instruments designed to
distinguish maximizers from satisficers and to measure sensitivity
to regret. And if people do differ in these respects, does it make a
difference? We addressed this question in the present studies in
several ways. Study 1 examined the relations between ones scores
on a Maximization Scale and a Regret Scale and scores on mea-
sures of happiness, life satisfaction, optimism, depression, neurot-
icism, and perfectionism. In subsequent studies we attempted to
validate some of these putative relations and to identify possible
mediators. Study 2, guided by the notion that maximizers might
seek more information than satisficers when making decisions,
used a questionnaire to examine relations between maximization
and the amount of social comparison that goes into making pur-
chasing decisions, as well as the satisfaction people derive from
those decisions. Study 3, inspired by findings reported by Ly-
ubomirsky and Ross (1997) that unhappy people are more affected
by upward social comparison than happy people, further explored
the relation between maximizing and social comparison processes
by examining whether maximizers and satisficers respond differ-
entially to social comparison manipulations. Finally, Study 4 ex-
amined the possible causal role of regret in mediating between
maximizing and dissatisfaction by exposing participants to a com-
puter game designed to manipulate the potential for regret. We
anticipated that maximizers would be more sensitive to regret than
satisficers, and would derive less satisfaction from their results in
games in which the opportunity for regret was salient.
Study 1. Maximizing, Satisficing, and Regret:
Scale Development
This study involved the creation and evaluation of two new
measuring instrumentsone designed to assess the tendency to
satisfice or maximize and one designed to assess the tendency to
experience regret. Materials were administered to seven samples of
participants, four of them university students and three of them
community adults. In total, 1,747 participants completed the max-
imizing and regret questionnaires.
Packets of questionnaires were administered to seven samples (total
N1,747). Participants completed the questionnaires either in small
groups of 3 to 7 (Samples 1 and 3), during one large, group session
(Samples 2, 4, 5, and 7), or individually (Sample 6). Completing the
questionnaires required less than 45 min (in the case of Sample 6, less
than 15 min). For each administration, the content of the questionnaires
varied, as described below.
Each of the first four samples comprised students in introductory psy-
chology courses, who received course credit for their participation. The
first two samples (n82 and n72) were recruited at Swarthmore
College, the third sample (n100) at the University of California,
Riverside, and the fourth sample (n401) at the University of British
Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. The fifth sample (n752) consisted of
participants at a 1-day seminar for allied health care professionals (mean
age 47 years), the majority of whom were nurses. The sixth sample (n
220) was composed of individuals recruited at a large train station in an
urban setting (mean age 41 years), and the seventh (n120) comprised
individuals in an urban courthouse approached while waiting to be in-
formed if they would serve on a jury (mean age 40 years). There were
approximately equal numbers of males and females in the first three
samples, along with the sixth sample (i.e., individuals at the train station),
but the fourth sample (i.e., students at the University of British Columbia)
included 258 females and 141 males (2 participants failed to identify their
gender), the fifth sample (i.e., health care providers) included 684 females
and 60 males (8 participants failed to identify their gender), and the final
sample (members of a jury pool) included 87 females, 28 males, and 5
individuals who failed to identify their gender. The third, fourth, and
seventh samples also were quite diverse ethnically. The third sample was
39% Asian, 24% Caucasian, 10% Chicano(a)/Latino(a), 8% African Amer-
ican, and 10% other, and the fourth sample (classified using slightly
different categories) was 51% of East Asian descent (e.g., Chinese, Tai-
wanese), 25% of Western European descent (e.g., British, French), 9% of
East Indian descent (e.g., Indian, Pakistani), and 15% other. The seventh
sample was 48% Caucasian, 45% African American, and 7% other.
Sample 1. Our aim with the first sample was to create maximization
and regret scales and to investigate correlations between responses to those
scales and well-established measures of well-being. Participants completed
a preliminary 42-item questionnaire designed to measure maximization (33
items) and regret (9 items). Participants responded to each item using a
7-point, Likert-type scale (1 completely disagree,7completely
agree). In addition, they completed a four-item Subjective Happiness Scale
(SHS) designed to assess dispositional happiness (Lyubomirsky & Lepper,
1999), a depression survey (the 13-item short form of the Beck Depression
Inventory [BDI-SF; Beck & Beck, 1972]), and a measure of dispositional
optimism (the Life Orientation Test [LOT; Scheier & Carver, 1985]).
On the basis of item reliability and face validity, the measure was
reduced to 22 items, 17 assessing maximization and 5 assessing regret.
These 22 items were then presented to 11 judges (advanced undergraduate
students majoring either in psychology or economics) who were unaware
of either the purpose of our studies or the specific hypotheses under
investigation. The judges were asked to examine each item and indicate
whether, on the one hand, it probed an individuals inclination to get the
best out of any situationor settle for good enough,or, on the other hand,
it probed a persons sensitivity to the possibility that he or she might
regret a decision once made.Of the 5 regretitems, 4 were judged by 10
of our 11 informants to be about regret and the 5th was judged by 9
informants to be about regret. Of the 17 maximizationitems, 10 were
judged by 10 of 11 informants to be about maximization, 3 were so judged
by 9 informants, and 4 were so judged by 7 informants. Thus, we were
reasonably confident that our measures had face validitythat our under-
standing of what the questions were asking would be matched by that of the
participants. We then submitted the 5 regret items and 17 maximization
items to a principal-components factor analysis (PCA), which is reported
Sample 2. Participants in the second sample received these 22 items,
unidentified and intermixed. In an independent test of the putative associ-
ations investigated in Sample 1, they were also asked to complete the SHS
and the BDI-SF.
Sample 3. Participants in the third sample completed the same 22-item
questionnaire assessing maximization and regret, along with the SHS,
BDI-SF, and LOT. In addition, they completed a questionnaire probing life
satisfaction (the Satisfaction With Life Scale [Diener, Emmons, Larsen, &
Griffin, 1985]) and a scale assessing dispositional Neuroticism (John,
Donahue, & Kentle, 1991), a Big Five trait that we thought might be
correlated with maximization.
Sample 4. The fourth sample of participants completed the 22-item
questionnaire along with the SHS. In addition, these participants were
asked a series of questions regarding tendencies to engage in social
comparison and patterns of purchasing behavior. These materials comprise
the substance of Study 2 and thus discussion of them appears later in the
Sample 5. The fifth sample completed the same 22-item questionnaire
in addition to the aforementioned measures of happiness and depression
(i.e., the SHS and BDI).
Sample 6. The sixth sample also completed the 22-item questionnaire
and the SHS, along with a 15-item perfectionism subscale composed of the
Self-Oriented Perfectionism items of the Multidimensional Perfectionism
Scale (Hewitt & Flett, 1990, 1991). The addition of this scale was intended
to investigate participantstendencies to hold exceedingly high standards
for themselves in a variety of domains. The scale included items such as,
One of my goals is to be perfect in everything I do,and I demand
nothing less than perfection of myself(1 disagree, 7agree). In
addition, a subset of participants (n146) completed the 10-item measure
of self-esteem developed by Rosenberg (1965).
Sample 7. The only measures relevant to this article that were com-
pleted by members of the prospective jury pool were the 22-item maximi-
zation/regret survey and the same 10-item measure of self-esteem (Rosen-
berg, 1965).
Factor Analysis
We conducted a PCA on the combined samples (n1,747) to
determine the factor structure of the regret and maximizing items.
We sought the solution that best approximated a simple struc-
turethat is, the one in which most of the items loaded on at least
one factor, and each item loaded on only one factor. What
emerged, on the basis of a varimax rotation, was a six-factor
solution. However, two of the factors contained only two items
each, and one item failed to load on any of the factors. In addition,
the item-total correlations for all but one of these five items were
quite low. We thus eliminated the four items with low item-total
correlations, resulting in a 13-item Maximization Scale and a
five-item Regret Scale. We conducted another PCA on these 18
items. The resulting four-factor solution is presented in Table 1.
The first factor, on which all five regret items loaded, references
regret,and makes up the Regret Scale. The other factors are
subcategories of maximizing/satisficing and make up the Maximi-
zation Scale. The second and third factors are largely behavioral
examples of maximizing. The second factor includes being open to
better jobs, songs on the radio, television shows, and relationships,
liking lists that rank things, and fantasizing about alternatives to
reality (which also loaded on the regretfactor, though its loading
was lower than that of the other regretitems; in addition, this
item was judged by 9 of our 11 informants to be more about
maximizing and satisficing than about regret). The third factor,
which concerns primarily shopping behaviors, includes shopping
for a friend, renting videos, and shopping for clothing. Writing
several drafts of letters so as to word things just right also loads on
this factor. The fourth factor represents having high standards,
both for oneself and for things in general. One of the items that
loaded on this factor also loaded on the regretfactor. Its loading
on the regretfactor was substantially lower than all the other
regret items, and also lower than its loading on this maximizing
factor. Moreover, this item was judged by 10 of our 11 informants
to be about maximizing. All further analyses, in this and subse-
quent studies, used responses to the modified, 13-item Maximiza-
tion Scale rather than the 17-item scale participants actually saw.
The correlation (across all participants) between scores on the 13-
and the 17-item scales was .99 (p.001). Cronbachs alpha was
.71 for the Maximization Scale and .67 for the Regret Scale.
Correlations With Standard Personality Measures
Sample 1. Table 2 presents the Pearsons zero-order correla-
tions between the variables investigated in Study 1. As can be seen
in the table, a tendency for participants to be maximizers rather
than satisficers (
.70) was significantly correlated with a
tendency to experience more regret and depression, as well as to be
less optimistic, and less happy (p.06). By way of further
illustration, of the 18 people who scored 8 or above on the BDI-SF,
qualifying for a diagnosis of at least mild depressive symptoms
(Beck & Beck, 1972), 8 (44%; Mean BDI score 13.25) also
scored in the top quartile for maximization, whereas only 1 (6%;
BDI score 8) scored in the bottom quartile. By contrast, of
the 19 people scoring in the top quartile for happiness, 8 (42%;
Mean SHS score 16.88) were in the bottom quartile for maxi-
mization, whereas only 3 (16%; Mean SHS score 16.33) were in
the top quartile.
Sample 2. Table 2 also presents the correlations between the
13-item maximization composite (
.60) and the five-item
regret composite (
.78) for Sample 2, along with the BDI-SF
and the SHSthe only other measures administered to this sam-
ple. Once again, we observed strong associations between maxi-
mization and a tendency to experience regret and depression, and
lower levels of happiness.
Sample 3. Our third sample provided a further opportunity to
investigate relations between maximization and various personal-
ity constructs. Table 2 presents the intercorrelations between the
maximization composite (
.70), the regret composite (
.70), and measures of optimism, happiness, depression, neuroti-
cism, and satisfaction with life. Correlations between maximizing
and the constructs of regret, depression, and satisfaction with life
were significant beyond the p.01 range. In addition, maximiz-
ing was negatively correlated with optimism (p.05) and hap-
piness (p.10). However, the relation between maximizing and
neuroticism was not significant (p.10). In sum, in addition to
replicating the results found with Sample 1, this sample provided
evidence for a strong relation between maximization and dimin-
ished life satisfaction, as well as a nonsignificant relation with
Sample 4. Table 2 presents data from our fourth sample on the
relations between the maximization composite (
.63), the
regret composite (
.73), and the SHS. Once again, the corre-
lation between maximizing and regret was significant, although the
relation between maximizing and happiness was modest (r.10,
Sample 5. The fifth section of Table 2 displays the correlations
between maximizing (
.70), regret (
.74), happiness, and
depression for the sample of health care providers who completed
the relevant measures. As seen with the previous samples, a
tendency to score highly on the Maximization Scale was predictive
of greater regret and depression, as well as lower levels of self-
reported happiness.
Sample 6. The sixth section of Table 2 presents correlations
for participants approached at the urban train station. Once again,
maximizing (
.72) was positively correlated with regret (
.67), and negatively correlated with happiness. In addition, maxi-
mizing was significantly correlated with perfectionism (r.25,
p.001). And for the subsample who completed the relevant
measure, maximizing and self-esteem were negatively correlated
(r⫽⫺.30, p.001). Interestingly, however, whereas maximizing
and perfectionism were significantly correlated, neither happiness
(r.12, p.08) nor self-esteem (r.02, ns) correlated
significantly with perfectionism. Indeed, if anything, the relation
between perfectionism and happiness was positive rather than
Sample 7. The final sample, taken from prospective jury mem-
bers, replicated the significant association between maximizing
.73) and self-esteem exhibited by the subsample in Sample 6,
(r⫽⫺.26, p.01).
Across the seven samples, maximization scores ranged
from 1.15 to 6.62, with a mean of 3.88 and a median of 3.85. Also,
across all samples, the correlation between maximizing and regret
Table 1
Factor Analysis of the Regret and Maximization Scales Using PCA With Varimax Rotation
Factor F1 F2 F3 F4 Item-total r
Regret Scale
Whenever I make a choice, Im curious about what would have
happened if I had chosen differently. .78 .62
Whenever I make a choice, I try to get information about how
the other alternatives turned out. .74 .57
If I make a choice and it turns out well, I still feel like
something of a failure if I find out that another choice would
have turned out better. .62 .51
When I think about how Im doing in life, I often assess
opportunities I have passed up. .61 .51
Once I make a decision, I dont look back. (R) .56 .40
Maximization Scale
When I watch TV, I channel surf, often scanning through the
available options even while attempting to watch one
program. .81 .45
When I am in the car listening to the radio, I often check other
stations to see if something better is playing, even if Im
relatively satisfied with what Im listening to. .77 .46
I treat relationships like clothing: I expect to try a lot on before
I get the perfect fit. .51 .33
No matter how satisfied I am with my job, its only right for
me to be on the lookout for better opportunities. .44 .41
I often fantasize about living in ways that are quite different
from my actual life. .43 .40 .44
Im a big fan of lists that attempt to rank things (the best
movies, the best singers, the best athletes, the best novels,
etc.). .38 .33
I often find it difficult to shop for a gift for a friend. .73 .39
When shopping, I have a hard time finding clothing that I
really love. .71 .31
Renting videos is really difficult. Im always struggling to pick
the best one. .68 .46
I find that writing is very difficult, even if its just writing a
letter to a friend, because its so hard to word things just
right. I often do several drafts of even simple things. .57 .33
No matter what I do, I have the highest standards for myself. .80 .20
I never settle for second best. .78 .25
Whenever Im faced with a choice, I try to imagine what all
the other possibilities are, even ones that arent present at the
moment. .36 .51 .28
Note. Item marked by Rwas reverse scored in the analysis. The factor analysis was a principal-components
analysis (PCA) with varimax rotation, using eigenvalues greater than 1 as the extraction method. The last column
displays the corrected item-total correlations for each item with its respective scale (i.e., regret [first five items]
or maximization).
was .52 (p.001), and in the samples in which it was assessed,
happiness and maximizing were significantly correlated (r
.25, p.001)as were maximizing and depression (r.34,
Gender Differences
No gender differences were found in Samples 13or5in
participantsscores on the Maximization Scale, the Regret Scale,
or in the association between maximizing and measures of well-
being and regret. In Samples 4, 6, and 7, a significant gender
difference emergedthat is, males were more likely than females
to be maximizers in all three of these samples: Sample 4 (Ms
4.46 vs. 4.27), t(395) 2.41, p.02; Sample 6 (Ms4.08
vs. 3.79), t(209) 2.26, p.05; and Sample 7 (Ms4.33
vs. 3.91), t(107) 2.03, p.05.
Partial Mediation by Regret
Because questionnaires from Samples 13 and 5 included a
common measure of depression and Samples 16 included a
common measure of happiness as well as our maximization and
regret scales, we were able to investigate a putative mechanism
underlying the observed effects, namely, that the relations ob-
served between maximization and both depression and happiness
were mediated by a tendency to experience regret. According to
R. M. Baron and Kenny (1986; see also Martin, Tesser, & Mc-
Intosh, 1993), four criteria must be met to establish mediation: (1)
the predictor variable (i.e., maximization) must be related to the
criterion variable (e.g., depression); (2) the mediator (i.e., regret)
must be related to the predictor; (3) the mediator must be related
to the criterion (controlling for the influence of the predictor); and
(4) the relation between the predictor and the criterion must be
eliminated or significantly reduced when the criterion is regressed
simultaneously on the predictor and the mediator. Turning first to
depression, across the four samples, we observed a significant
relation between maximization and scores on the BDI (r.34,
p.001), meeting the first of the aforementioned criteria. In
addition, regret and maximization were strongly correlated (r
.52, p.001), meeting Criterion 2, and the relation between regret
and depression (r.39) remained significant in a regression
Table 2
Pearson’s Zero-Order Correlations Among Variables in Six Samples
Variable Max Regret SHS BDI LOT NR
Sample 1 (n82)
Regret .61***
SHS .21 .15
BDI .24* .03 .46***
LOT .28* .07 .54*** .51***
Sample 2 (n72)
Regret .45*** ——
SHS .34** .40** ——
BDI .44*** .46*** .55*** ——
Sample 3 (n100)
Regret .36***
SHS .17 .51***
BDI .27** .47*** .66***
LOT .25* .35*** .74*** .54***
NR .16 .35*** .58*** .49*** .50***
SWLS .27** .54*** .71*** .68*** .59*** .48***
Sample 4 (n401)
Regret .39*** ———
SHS .10* .27*** ———
Sample 5 (n752)
Regret .46*** ——
SHS .28*** .40*** ——
BDI .31*** .39*** .66*** ——
Sample 6 (n220)
Regret .50*** ————
SHS .17* .22** ————
Note. Dashes indicate that data were not collected for this measure. Max Maximization Scale; Regret
Regret Scale; SHS Subjective Happiness Scale; BDI Beck Depression Inventory; LOT Life Orientation
Test; NR Neuroticism; SWLS Satisfaction With Life Scale.
*p.05. ** p.01. *** p.001.
equation that controlled for the influence of maximization, F(2,
983) 105.45, p.001, regret
.29; maximizing
(meeting Criterion 3). Finally, as this last multiple regression
equation (which regressed depression simultaneously on regret and
maximization) makes clear, although the relation between maxi-
mization and depression remained significant after controlling for
regret, consistent with the dictates of Criterion 4, the relation was
significantly weaker than it had been in the absence of regret (i.e.,
a change in beta from .34 to .19), an effect confirmed by a test
based on Sobels (1982) method for determining the existence of
a mediational relation (z7.87, p.001; see also MacKinnon &
Dwyer, 1993; Preacher & Leonardelli, 2001).
Similar analyses confirmed a mediational role played by regret
in the relation between maximization and happiness, which were
significantly negatively correlated across the six samples (r
.25, p.001). In brief, when regret, which was also negatively
correlated with happiness (r⫽⫺.37), was entered into a regres-
sion equation along with maximization as predictors of happiness,
the aforementioned relation between maximization and happiness
was significantly reduced (i.e., a change in beta from .25 to
.08), as confirmed by a Sobel test of mediation (z10.91, p
.001). In sum, regret appeared to play a partial mediational role
between maximization and depression and between maximization
and happiness. However, because of high correlations between
regret and other constructs investigated in one or more samples
constructs such as depression, happiness, and subjective well-
beingany mediational role ascribed to regret should be viewed
with caution. And, of course, regret was not manipulated in any of
these samples, permitting no causal conclusions to be drawn.
Study 1 provided evidence for individual differences in what
people aspire to when they make decisions in various domains of
their lives. Maximizers desire the best possible result; satisficers
desire a result that is good enough to meet some criterion. When
we correlated scores on our Maximization Scale with well-
established measures of well-being, we found that maximizers
reported significantly less life satisfaction, happiness,optimism,
and self-esteem, and significantly more regret and depression, than
did satisficers. Though Study 1 tells us nothing about the direction
of causality, it is possible that whereas a maximizing decision
strategy might, as a matter of logic, yield better objective outcomes
than a satisficing strategy, it is likely to yield worse subjective
outcomes. Study 1 also revealed that although maximizing was
significantly correlated with perfectionism (Sample 6), the corre-
lations of each of these measures with happiness and self-esteem in
the study were quite different (happiness was negatively correlated
with maximizing and positively correlated with perfectionism;
self-esteem was negatively correlated with maximizing and uncor-
related with perfectionism), suggesting that maximizing and per-
fectionism are distinct.
Study 1 also tells us nothing about the stability over time of
scores on the Maximization Scale. If a maximizing orientation is
something like a trait, we would expect response patterns to be
stable over time. Although a good deal more research is needed,
Gillham, Ward, and Schwartz (2001) have collected repeated mea-
sures from 102 undergraduates, who were given the Maximization
Scale four times over a period of 9 months. Scores at Time 1
correlated with scores at Time 2 (r.81), with scores at Time 3
(r.82), and with scores at Time 4 (r.73). Though larger
samples and longer interevaluation intervals are essential before
any firm conclusions can be drawn, these results suggest that a
maximizing orientation enjoys some degree of stability.
How is a maximizer to judge whether a given outcome is the
best possible outcome? In many cases, there is not a finite and
transparent set of possibilities to allow for complete and unambig-
uous judgment. For example, what does it mean to have the best
possible salary, meal at a restaurant, wardrobe, or even the best
possible spouse? Although imagination could provide a standard,
a more probable basis for the maximizers assessment in these
domains is social comparison (perhaps only with those seen as
belonging to an appropriate comparison group). What does it mean
to have ordered the best possible meal at a restaurant other than
that it is better than anyone elses meal? Thus, whereas good
enoughusually can be judged in absolute terms, the best possi-
blemay often require social comparison. Being a maximizer may
require one to be concerned with ones relative position.
Festinger (1954) and Frank (1985, 1999; see also Hirsch, 1976)
have argued persuasively that people do seem to be guided largely
by how they are doing relative to relevant others, and several
studies that compared the effects of absolute and relative position
on satisfaction have observed that good relative position produces
greater satisfaction than good absolute position (Bazerman, Loew-
enstein, & White, 1992; Bazerman, Moore, Tenbrunsel, Wade-
Benzoni, & Blount, 1999; Blount & Bazerman, 1996; Hsee,
Blount, Loewenstein, & Bazerman, 1999; Solnick & Hemenway,
1998). Poor relative position, however, appears to affect some
people more than others. For example, Lyubomirsky and Ross
(1997) reported that unhappy people are more affected by upward
social comparison than happy people. More specifically, in their
first study, Lyubomirsky and Ross found that whereas both happy
and unhappy people derived satisfaction from information that
their performance was better than that of a peer, only unhappy
people seemed to suffer from information that their performance
was worse than that of a peer.
Especially relevant are the findings from Study 2 of the Ly-
ubomirsky and Ross (1997) article. In that study, happy and
unhappy students received positive or negative feedback from the
experimenter on a novel teaching task, and then witnessed a
same-sex peer receive even more positive or even more negative
feedback than themselves. The most striking finding from this
study was that unhappy students reported feeling happier and more
self-confident when they had received a poor evaluation on their
performance (2 out of 7), but heard their peer receive an even
worse one (1 out of 7), than when they had received an excellent
evaluation (6 out of 7), but heard their peer receive an even better
one (7 out of 7). Happy students, by contrast, did not show this
pattern of sensitiveresponding to comparisons with peers. These
findings lend some credibility to our hypothesis that maximizers
may be more concerned with relative position, and thus with social
comparison, than satisficers, especially in light of the findings
from Study 1 that maximizers are generally less happy than
Studies 2 and 3 were designed to explore directly the relative
importance of social comparison to maximizers and satisficers.
Study 2 inquired about social comparison in the context of pur-
chasing decisions. Study 3 replicated Lyubomirsky and Rosss
(1997) first study with groups of participants identified as maxi-
mizers or satisficers.
Study 2. Maximizing, Satisficing, Social Comparison,
and Consumer Behavior
Because many of the choices that people make in their daily
lives concern the purchase and consumption of goods, Study 2
explored maximizing and satisficing with respect to consumer
purchasing decisions. As indicated in the introduction, a prolifer-
ation of options can pose significant problems for a maximizer.
One cannot be sure that one is making the best choice without
examining all the alternatives. And if examination of all the
alternatives is not feasible, then when the maximizer finally
chooses, there may be a lingering doubt that he or she could have
done better with more searching. Thus, as options increase, the
likelihood of successful maximization goes down. Further, the
potential for regret is ever present because the maximizer is asking
is this the best outcome?and could I have done better?And in
attempting to answer these questions, given the time and
information-processing constraints that everyone faces, maximiz-
ers may be inclined to rely on information about how others are
doing as a way of assessing whether their chosen outcomes were
indeed the best. Thus, in Study 2, we were particularly interested
in the relation between maximizing tendencies and social compar-
ison, regret, and happiness with consumer purchasing decisions.
We anticipated that maximizing would predict reports of engaging
in more social comparison and experiencing greater regret in
general. In addition, we expected that maximizing would predict
reports of more product comparison, social comparison, and coun-
terfactual thinking regarding purchases, and that these consumer
comparisons would lead to heightened consumer regret and de-
creased happiness regarding purchases.
Participants, Materials, and Procedure
Participants were the 401 undergraduates described earlier as Sample 4
in Study 1. The materials comprised a questionnaire that included the
Maximization Scale, the Regret Scale, and the SHS from Study 1. In
addition, we created a scale to measure frequency of social comparison in
general, beliefs about the appropriateness of upward social comparison,
and beliefs about the appropriateness of downward social comparison.
a pretest of this scale (n76), the subscales measuring frequency of social
comparison (
.69), upward social comparison (
.74), and downward
social comparison (
.70) demonstrated adequate reliability. In addition,
this pretest demonstrated that the frequency of social comparison subscale
correlated with a validated measure of social comparison tendencies (r
.50, p.001; Gibbons & Buunk, 1999).
Consumer behavior items were created regarding peoples general ten-
dencies toward consumer-related social comparison, product comparison,
counterfactual thinking, and consumer regret. After completing these
items, participants were asked to recall either an expensive or an inexpen-
sive recent purchase. Participants in the inexpensive condition were asked
to recall the most recent item you have purchased that was relatively
inexpensive, say around $5.00. For example, the item might be a movie
rental, a book, or a magazine.Those in the expensive condition were
asked to recall the most recent item you have purchased that was rela-
tively expensive, say around $500.00. For example, the item might be
sporting equipment, electronic equipment, etc.
All participants then answered specific consumer behavior questions
regarding their purchase, such as product price, product comparison, time
to decide on the product, prepurchase and postpurchase social comparison,
counterfactual thinking, happiness with the product, and regret regarding
the recalled purchase. The order of presentation of the Maximizing and
Regret Scales and the consumer behavior items was counterbalanced.
Because counterbalancing did not predict significant variance in any of the
dependent variables, the results are collapsed across this variable. Partic-
ipants completed the questionnaire packet in class, and were debriefed at
the end of the study.
Construction of Indexes
Composites of social comparison frequency (
.68), down-
ward social comparison (
.68), and upward social comparison
.71) were created. Composites also were constructed for
general product comparison (
.72), general social comparison
.72), and general consumer regret (
.82). Finally, an
index of consumer maximizing tendencies for a specific purchase
was created by combining the measures of product comparison,
time to decide, prepurchase social comparison, postpurchase social
comparison, and counterfactual thinking (
Happiness, Regret, and Social Comparison Tendencies
As reported in Study 1, maximizing was associated with being
less happy (though this relation was modest) and experiencing
more regret. We anticipated that maximizing also would predict
reports of engaging in social comparison. A linear regression
analysis with maximizing as the predictor on the overall index of
social comparison frequency supported this prediction, F(1,
393) 39.07, p.001,
.30. Regression analyses on the
upward and downward social comparison indexes indicated that
maximizing was also predictive of interest in upward, F(1,
397) 8.99, p.01,
.15, and downward, F(1, 397) 21.14,
.23, social comparisons. In addition, maximizing
predicted reports of engaging in upward, F(1, 394) 33.63, p
.28, and downward, F(1, 395) 15.09, p.001,
.19, social comparisons more frequently.
Regression analyses indicated that both frequency of downward
social comparison (when statistically controlling for frequency of
upward social comparison), F(2, 392) 15.23, p.001,
and frequency of upward social comparison (when statistically
controlling for frequency of downward social comparison), F(2,
392) 42.19, p.001,
.31, were predictive of reports of
In the interest of brevity, the items measuring social comparison
frequency (e.g., How frequently do you compare yourself to other people
in general?), appropriateness of upward social comparison (e.g., Com-
paring oneself to those who are better off can be useful), appropriateness
of downward social comparison (e.g., It is inappropriate to compare ones
own standing to those who are not doing as well[reverse scored]), general
consumer behavior (e.g., for product comparison: When I am planning to
purchase an item of clothing, I like to look at all the stores first to make
certain I get the perfect item), and specific consumer behaviors (e.g., for
product comparison: How many products did you consider before choos-
ing this particular one?) can be obtained from authors Katherine White
( or Darrin R. Lehman (dlehman@cortex
regret. In addition, although frequency of downward social com-
parison (when statistically controlling for frequency of upward
social comparison) was not predictive of subjective happiness,
F(2, 392) 0.47, ns,
.04, upward social comparison fre-
quency (controlling for downward social comparison) was, F(2,
392) 10.09, p.01,
Of interest, maximizers seemed to be oriented toward both
upward and downward social comparisons. Past research and
theorizing suggest that upward comparisons may trigger negative
affective states, lead to low ratings of subjective well-being, and
result in negative consequences for the self (e.g., Diener, 1984;
Morse & Gergen, 1970; Salovey & Rodin, 1984), whereas down-
ward comparisons often have the opposite effect, allowing the
individual to feel better in comparison to a worse off other (e.g.,
Morse & Gergen, 1970; Wills, 1981). The puzzle here is that
although maximizing was predictive of engaging in more down-
ward social comparison, it was also predictive of regret. Is it the
case that maximizers are susceptible to the negative consequences
of upward social comparison, but unable to reap the benefits of
downward social comparison? This is not implausible in light of
suggestive evidence that social comparison in general is not com-
patible with happiness (Lyubomirsky & Ross, 1997; Lyubomirsky,
Tucker, & Kasri, 2001).
To address this possibility, we examined whether upward social
comparison and downward social comparison were related to
regret among those high in maximization. We performed a median
split on the maximizing scale, and examined the relation between
regret and social comparison among those scoring high on the
maximizing scale. The results revealed that, among those high on
maximizing, frequency of upward social comparison (controlling
for downward social comparison) was predictive of regret, F(2,
197) 7.08, p.01,
.19, whereas frequency of downward
social comparison (controlling for upward social comparison) was
not, F(2, 197) 2.50, p.12,
.11. We also found that,
among those high on maximizing, frequency of upward social
comparison (controlling for downward social comparison) was
predictive of decreased happiness, F(2, 198) 6.57, p.02,
.18, whereas frequency of downward social comparison (con-
trolling for upward social comparison) was not positively related
to happiness, F(2, 198) .25, ns,
.04. This provides some
support for the notion that whereas maximizers tend to experience
the negative consequences of upward social comparisons, they are
unable to benefit from downward social comparisons.
General Consumer Behaviors
Linear regression analyses on the general consumer behavior
items revealed that maximizing predicted the tendency to engage
in product comparison, F(1, 397) 42.49, p.001,
social comparison, F(1, 396) 12.27, p.01,
.17, and
counterfactual thinking, F(1, 397) 29.40, p.001,
regarding purchases. Further, maximizing was predictive of re-
ports of consumer regret, F(1, 397) 19.16, p.001,
Consumer Behaviors for Recalled Purchases
Participants were asked to report on either an inexpensive or an
expensive purchase. The average amount spent on inexpensive
purchases was $6.57, and maximizing was not predictive of the
amount spent on inexpensive purchases (F1, ns). The majority
of inexpensive purchases were magazines (22.4%), movie rentals
(22.0%), food (15.1%), and books (10.7%). Other inexpensive
purchases included such things as cosmetics, school supplies, and
CDs. The average amount spent on expensive purchases was
$538.00, and, once again, maximizing was not predictive of the
amount spent (F1, ns). The majority of expensive purchases
were stereo equipment (16.8%), computers (15.8%), and clothing
(15.3%). Other expensive items included sporting equipment and
other electronic items (e.g., TVs, cell phones).
Regression analyses indicated that, when recalling a specific
purchase, maximizing predicted the consideration of more prod-
ucts, F(1, 389) 5.23, p.01,
.12, and taking longer to
decide, F(1, 390) 13.13, p.001,
.18. Maximizing
predicted reports of engaging in social comparison both before,
F(1, 390) 4.51, p.04,
.11, and after, F(1, 390) 5.52,
.12, making purchases. Furthermore, maximizing
was associated with engaging in more counterfactual thinking
regarding purchases, F(1, 390) 34.12, p.001,
Finally, maximizing was predictive of reports of diminished pos-
itive feelings toward purchases (i.e., an index of happiness and
regret, with regret reverse scored), F(1, 389) 9.68, p.01,
.16. Thus, it appears that maximizers not only report engaging in
more comparisons (i.e., product comparisons, social comparisons,
and counterfactual comparisons) regarding their consumer deci-
sions, they also report experiencing heightened regret and de-
creased happiness.
Given the relation between maximizing and happiness observed
in these studies, it is possible that findings that we have attributed
to individual differences in maximizing may really be due to
differences in dispositional happiness, a plausible hypothesis given
Lyubomirsky and Rosss (1997) finding that unhappy people are
more affected by upward social comparison information than
happy people. To examine this possibility, we conducted partial
correlation analyses between maximizing and regret, frequency of
social comparison, maximizing tendencies (i.e., an index of time to
decide on the purchase, product comparison, prepurchase social
comparison, postpurchase social comparison, and counterfactual
thinking), and consumer feelings (i.e., an index of consumer hap-
piness and regret), controlling for dispositional happiness. The
partial correlations between maximizing and regret (r.39, p
.001), frequency of social comparison (r.27, p.001), max-
imizing tendencies (r.19, p.001), and consumer feelings
(r⫽⫺.13, p.02) all remained significant when levels of
happiness were statistically controlled. Thus, it appears that max-
imizing makes a contribution to regret, to social comparison, to
consumer behaviors, and to consumer satisfaction over and above
that of dispositional happiness.
As anticipated, maximizing was predictive of reports of engag-
ing in social comparison, being concerned with what others were
doing, and finding upward and downward social comparison more
appropriate. Maximizing also predicted product comparison, social
comparison, and counterfactual thinking with regard to purchases.
Moreover, maximizing predicted consumer feelings, such that
those high on maximizing ultimately experienced more regret and
less happiness regarding their purchases. These patterns held after
controlling for dispositional happiness. Furthermore, our findings
regarding consumer behavior suggest that social comparisons and
product comparisons stimulated counterfactual thoughts, which
then engendered regret (see, e.g., Roese, 1997). Although a mea-
sure of general counterfactual thinking was not included in this
study, recent research indicates that maximizers ruminate more
than satisficers (White, Lehman, & Schwartz, 2002). It may be the
case that counterfactual thinking and ruminative thoughts are
related to the general regret reported by maximizers, as well as to
consumption-related regret. Thus, it appears that striving for the
best things in life may have paradoxical consequences.
Intuition, along with previous research (e.g., Morse & Gergen,
1970), suggests that whereas upward social comparison might
yield regret and unhappiness, downward social comparison might
yield elation. Study 2 found no such mood enhancing effects of
downward social comparison. However, a close look at the recent
literature on social comparison suggests that consistent positive
effects of downward social comparison are reliably reported only
for individuals who have low self-esteem or experience physical or
psychological threat (e.g., Affleck & Tennen, 1991; Aspinwall &
Taylor, 1993; Gibbons & Gerrard, 1989; Taylor, 1983; see Wills,
1991, for a review). In the general population, the mood effects of
social comparison are much less predictable. Recent findings sug-
gest that the affective consequences of social comparison are not
intrinsic to its direction (e.g., Buunk, Collins, van Yperen, Taylor,
& Dakof, 1990). That is, both upward and downward comparisons
can have positive or negative implications for the self (e.g., Brewer
& Weber, 1994; Brown, Novick, Lord, & Richards, 1992; Buunk
et al., 1990; Hemphill & Lehman, 1991; Lockwood & Kunda,
1997; Taylor, Buunk, & Aspinwall, 1990; Tesser, 1988; Wood &
VanderZee, 1997).
A limitation of Study 2 is that although it relied on reports of
real-life experiences, these were merely recalled by participants.
Because participantsrecollections of the purchasing situation
could be biased or incomplete, it is important to assess social
comparison, happiness, and regret among maximizers and satis-
ficers in other settings as well. Thus, Study 3 attempted to examine
reactions to social comparison information in a controlled labora-
tory setting.
Study 3. Maximizing, Satisficing, and Social Comparison
Because maximizers are continually chasing the best possible
option when making a decision, they try to gather and analyze all
of the information available to them. Information about ones
relative standing with ones peersthat is, social comparison
informationis likely to be an important source of information in
their decision-making process. Thus, maximizers are expected to
be more interested in social comparison feedback and more sen-
sitive to such feedback than satisficers.
Accordingly, the primary hypothesis tested in Study 3 was that
the moods and self-evaluations of maximizers would be more
vulnerable or sensitive to unsolicited social comparison informa-
tion than would those of satisficers. This study asked participants
to solve anagrams at whatever rate they were capable, but manip-
ulated the ostensible performance of an undergraduate peer so that
participants experienced relative success(i.e., their peer per-
formed worse than themselves) or relative failure(i.e., their peer
performed better than themselves). This paradigm was developed
by Lyubomirsky and Ross (1997, Study 1), who found support for
a parallel prediction regarding chronically unhappy and happy
individuals. That is, in their study, self-rated unhappy students who
solved puzzles in the presence of a faster peer showed smaller
increases in mood and self-confidence and expressed greater
doubts about their own ability than those exposed to a slower peer.
Happy individuals, by contrast, did not exhibit this pattern of
sensitive responding to social comparison feedback.
Study 3 was characterized by several notable features. First, to
minimize possible experimental demand characteristics and suspi-
cion on the part of participants, and to simulate typical real-
worldpeer comparison contexts, social comparison information
was provided indirectly. That is, the experimenter never explicitly
offered any comparison of performances, although such informa-
tion was made highly salient to the participants. Second, the
relevant task and dimension of evaluation (i.e., anagram-solving
ability) was one about which participants were unlikely to have
objective standards for evaluating their performance. Finally, par-
ticipants enjoyed wide latitude in managing the social comparison
information they faced. That is, they were free to minimize or
maximize the relevance, importance, and controllability of the
evaluation dimension; they were free to compete with, identify
with, or simply ignore their more or less successful peer; and they
were free to attribute their own performance and/or that of their
peer to whatever factors they wished.
To summarize, whereas in Study 2, participants only responded
to questions regarding their social comparison tendencies in con-
nection with consumer choices, Study 3 used a more powerful and
more direct manipulation of social comparison information, one
involving a real-life peer performing alongside the participant in
the laboratory. And in Study 3, rather than measuring participants
interest in and seeking of such comparison information, we exam-
ined the actual effects of social comparison information provided
by the context.
In the context of a purported study of cognitive performance, maximiz-
ers and satisficers (as categorized by their earlier responses to the Maxi-
mization Scale) solved anagram puzzles while a supposed peer (who was
actually an experimental confederate) ostensibly completed the same set of
anagrams much faster or much slower than themselves. Participants rated
themselves with respect to their current mood and anagram-solving ability
both before and after completion of the anagram-solving task.
Fifty-four students enrolled in an introductory psychology course at the
University of California, Riverside received course credit for their partic-
ipation in this study. Participants were selected on the basis of their
responses to the 13-item Maximization Scale, which was presented in the
context of a mass-administered questionnaire (n82). Responses to the 13
items, which displayed good internal consistency (
.79), were com-
bined and averaged to provide a single composite score, ranging from 2.6
to 6.7, with a median of 4.2 on the 7-point scale.
A sample of 26 maximizers and 28 satisficers, that is, those whose
composite scores were respectively either in the top or bottom third of the
distribution, were recruited for the study by telephone. The maximizers
group mean on the Maximization Scale was 5.26 (SD 0.50), whereas the
satisficersgroup mean was 3.49 (SD 0.43). We should note that the
omnibus questionnaire used in selecting these participants also included the
SHS and BDI (Beck, 1967). The correlations between participantsscores
on the Maximization Scale and their scores on the SHS and BDI were
moderate to high (r⫽⫺.27 and r.46, respectively). The inclusion of
these scales, although not specifically intended for this purpose, allowed us
to pursue issues of discriminant validity.
Procedure and Materials
In each experimental session, two individualsa participant and a
same-gender confederate pretending to be another participantcompleted
the relevant questionnaires and experimental tasks together. The experi-
menter, who was unaware of participantsmaximization status, explained
that participants were being paired simply to save time.
The experiment was introduced as a study of cognitive performance”—
that is, one in which we hoped to learn how personality and various
situational variables affect performance on a problem-solving task.Ac-
cordingly, participants were told they would be asked to solve a series of
anagram puzzles during the experimental session. To bolster this cover
story, a number of filler items, including questions about how often
participants solved puzzles and how much they enjoyed them, as well as
their quantitative and verbal Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) scores,
were embedded in the various questionnaires administered throughout the
Before undertaking the primary experimental task, participants com-
pleted a preliminary questionnaire assessing their premanipulation or
baselinemood. Mood was assessed with the Positive and Negative
Affect Schedule (PANAS; Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988), with 10
items measuring positive affect (PA;
.87) and 10 items measuring
negative affect (NA;
.79) on 5-point Likert-type scales. Participants
also provided a baseline measure assessing how good they initially thought
they were at solving anagrams (1 very poor,7excellent).
Anagram-solving task and social comparison manipulation. After the
participants had completed the preliminary questionnaire, a female exper-
imenter gave instructions for the 15-min anagram-solving task, which
closely followed a procedure developed by Lyubomirsky and Ross (1997,
Study 1). She began by handing each of them a samplepuzzle card
containing three anagramsthat is, Y-O-W-N-S (SNOWY), N-O-T-I-X
(TOXIN), and A-S-S-I-B (BASIS)and indicating that such cards would be
used throughout the anagram task. She further explained that upon un-
scrambling any two of the three anagrams on a given card, they were to
write their solutions and the card number on their answer sheet, then hand
the card back to the experimenter and receive a new card containing new
anagrams. Participants were also given a notebook to use as scratch paper
(one page per card). At that point, the experimenter instructed them to
begin solving anagrams and handing in their cards. What the participants
did not know was that their coparticipant was an experimental confederate
who had been instructed to monitor their partners pace and solve either
approximately twice as many or half as many anagrams as he or she dida
task that they accomplished successfully. The back-and-forth handing of
the anagram cards as the participant and confederate worked side-by-side
throughout the 15-min period, along with the consecutive numbering of the
cards and the turning of notebook pages, served to make it highly salient
to participants that their peer was performing at a much faster or much
slower pace.
Postperformance questionnaires. Immediately following the 15-min
anagram task, the participant and confederate were led to separate rooms,
and the participant was asked by the experimenter to complete a second set
of self-assessments. To assess participantschanges in mood as a function
of their own performance in the two social comparison conditions, partic-
ipants were asked to complete the PANAS for a second time (
.92 and
.83 for the PA and NA scales, respectively). To assess changes in
participantsperceptions of their own ability in light of their performance
and the apparently superior or inferior performance of their peer, partici-
pants were asked to rate again how good they thought they were at solving
anagrams (1 very poor,7excellent). As a manipulation check,
participants were next asked to rate their own just-completed task perfor-
mance and that of the confederate using 7-point scales (1 very poor,7
Finally, when all dependent variables had been collected, participants
completed a debriefing questionnaire and engaged in an oral debriefing, in
which they were given an opportunity to share their hunches about the
hypothesis of the study and to report any other suspicions. No guesses or
notable suspicions were reported. The entire session, including a process
debriefing (Ross, Lepper, & Hubbard, 1975), lasted approximately 1 hr.
Premanipulation Measures
Measures completed prior to the anagram-solving task sug-
gested no between-group differences in ability or experience. That
is, maximizers and satisficers did not differ significantly in their
quantitative and verbal SAT scores, in their initial self-ratings of
ability at solving anagrams, in their reports of how often they
solved anagrams, or in how much they enjoyed solving them (all
ts1). Notably, the two groups also did not differ significantly in
their baseline moods (ts for both PA and NA 1).
Manipulation Check
Overall, participants solved a mean of 12.7 anagrams
(SD 7.84) during the allotted 15-min test period. Analyses
revealed no significant performance differences between satis-
ficers and maximizers overall, t(53) 1, or in either the faster
peer(t2) or slower peer(t1) conditions. Nor was any
main effect found for peer performance on the participantsown
performance, t(43) 0.74, ns. As instructed, the confederate,
depending on experimental condition, solvedeither considerably
more anagrams (M27.29; SD 8.53) or considerably fewer
anagrams (M8.01; SD 5.90) than the participant. The
participants, moreover, showed themselves to be well aware of
these performance differences. Those in the faster peercondition
rated their peer as significantly better at solving anagrams
(M6.07, SD 0.94) than did those in the slower peer
condition (M3.08, SD 0.93), t(51) 11.73, p.001.
Finally, participants who witnessed a faster peer rated themselves
as significantly worse at solving anagrams (M2.29, SD 1.15)
than did those who witnessed a slower peer (M3.81,
SD 1.52), t(46) 4.12, p.001.
Strategies for Statistical Analyses
We hypothesized that maximizersmoods and self-assessments
of ability would depend heavily on the quality of their peers
performancethat is, whether it was inferior or superior to their
own. Satisficersmoods and self-assessments, by contrast, were
expected to be less influenced by the performance of their peer.
We conducted planned pairwise comparisons of the faster peer and
slower peer conditions within the two groups (Rosenthal & Ros-
now, 1985; see also Rosnow & Rosenthal, 1989, 1995). Addition-
ally, we compared maximizers who had witnessed a faster peer
with those in the three remaining conditions. Simple change scores
reflecting differences between premanipulation and postmanipula-
tion ratings provided the primary dependent variables for both
types of analyses. Other types of statistical analyses, such as
analyses of covariance (ANCOVAs) and repeated measures anal-
yses, were also performed and yielded results very similar to those
obtained in the analyses reported in this article. For brevity, these
results are not discussed.
Changes in Self-Assessments of Ability
We expected maximizers to offer ratings of their own ability
that gave considerable weight to social comparison information.
Supporting this prediction, a planned contrast revealed that max-
imizers gave lower assessments of ability on the anagram task after
working alongside a faster peer (M⫽⫺1.71, SD 1.27) than
after working alongside a slower peer (M0.17, SD 1.11), F(1,
50) 10.34, p.003. Self-assessments of satisficers, by contrast,
did not differ significantly between the two social comparison
conditions (Ms⫽⫺0.79 vs. 0.14), F(1, 50) 2.63. The top panel
of Figure 1, as well as the top of Table 3, shows the mean changes
in self-assessments of ability, based on 7-point rating scales, for all
four groups.
As expected, maximizing participants in the faster peercon-
dition not only exhibited the largest relative decline in self-
assessments of the four groups, F(1, 50) 11.33, r.43, p
.002, but their mean decline was the only one of the four that was
significantly different from zero (M⫽⫺1.71), t(14) 5.06, p
.001. However, differences between the responses of maximizers
and satisficers in this conditionat least in terms of changes in
their self-assessments of abilitydid not reach conventional lev-
els of statistical significance, F(1, 50) 2.73, p.10.
Changes in Self-Reported Affect
Examination of changes in participantsself-reported negative
mood (NA) produced a similar pattern of results (see the bottom
panel of Figure 1 and the top of Table 4). Once again, supporting
our predictions, maximizers displayed significantly more elevated
NA after witnessing a faster peer (M0.54, SD 0.82) than after
witnessing a slower peer (M⫽⫺0.03, SD 0.50), F(1, 50)
6.31, p.02. Satisficers, by contrast, showed more similar affect
in response to their superior versus inferior peers performance
(Ms0.12 vs. 0.06), F1.
Following the pattern of results for self-assessments, maximiz-
ers in the faster peercondition not only exhibited the biggest
increase in NA of the four groups, F(1, 50) 8.70, p.005, but,
once again, their mean increase was the only one of the four groups
Figure 1. Changes in assessments of ability (top) and negative affect (bottom) after working alongside a slower
versus faster peer (Study 3).
that was significantly different from zero (M0.54),
t(14) 2.43, p.03. Furthermore, differences between the
responses of maximizers and satisficers in this condition were
marginally statistically significant, F(1, 50) 3.62, p.07. None
of the analyses examining group differences in changes in partic-
ipantspositive mood (PA) reached conventional levels of statis-
tical significance.
Subjective Happiness and Dysphoria as Possible
Moderator Variables
Readers might question whether the effects reported thus far
really reflect the role of a maximization orientation rather than that
of chronic happiness or dysphoria. Indeed, similar effects have
been reported in an analysis of dispositionally happy and unhappy
individuals (Lyubomirsky & Ross, 1997, Study 1). Given the
moderately high correlations in this study between participants
scores on the Maximization Scale and their scores on the SHS and
the BDI, it was deemed prudent to address this question through
covariance analyses.
With respect to both happiness (as measured by the SHS) and
dysphoria (as measured by the BDI), the results of our analyses
were simple and conclusive. When either happiness or dysphoria
was introduced as a covariate, neither variable accounted for our
between-group differences. That is, both for changes in self-
assessment of ability and for changes in NA, ANCOVAs left our
adjustedmeans for both ability change (see Table 3) and NA
change (see Table 4), as well as the relevant contrasts, virtually
unaltered in magnitude.
The results of Study 3 supported our hypothesis that maximizers
would be more affected by social comparison information than
would satisficers. Maximizers who saw their peer solve anagrams
faster than themselves expressed greater doubts about their own
ability at the task and displayed a greater increase in negative
mood than maximizers who saw their peer solve fewer anagrams.
Satisficers, by contrast, showed little or no such response to the
social comparison information provided by their peer. Subsequent
analyses, moreover, suggested that it was differences in maximi-
zation per se, rather than the association of maximization with
happiness or dysphoria, that predicted the relevant differences in
Although the focus of this study was on the ways that students
use self-relevant social comparison feedback when evaluating
themselves, the relevant social comparison processes are likely to
mirror those recruited in decision-making contexts of the sort
investigated in Study 2. We suspect that many decisions faced by
studentsfor example, which major to choose, to which graduate
school to apply, which job to selectinvolve self-evaluations, and
comparisons with peers can provide feedback about whether one
can cut itin a particular major, school, or job. We speculate that
because satisficers are satisfied with a major, school, or job that is
simply good enough,they may not require as much information
in generaland social comparison information in particularas
do maximizers in order to make decisions.
Several issues raised by Study 3 deserve comment. First, given
that changes in participantsPA did not show the expected pattern
of results, further research could test the possibility that it is on NA
that social comparison has its major influence. Second, because the
current study examined differences in maximizersand satisficers
responses to social comparison information and not their interest in
or seeking of such information, the latter topics remain worthy of
investigation (though the questionnaire responses in Study 2 sug-
gest that maximizers seek more social comparison information
than satisficers). And, finally, because Study 3 was conducted in
Table 3
Maximization Versus Happiness and Dysphoria in Determining
Changes in ParticipantsSelf-Assessments of Ability
in Response to a Faster Versus Slower Peer
Maximizers Satisficers
Raw means
Faster peer 1.71 0.79
Slower peer 0.17 0.14
Difference 1.88 0.93
Adjusted means (with SHS score as covariate)
Faster peer 1.98 0.57
Slower peer 0.16 0.47
Difference 1.82 1.04
Adjusted means (with BDI score as covariate)
Faster peer 1.88 0.65
Slower peer 0.00 0.32
Difference 1.88 0.97
Note. SHS Subjective Happiness Scale; BDI Beck Depression
Table 4
Maximization Versus Happiness and Dysphoria in Determining
Changes in ParticipantsSelf-Reported Negative Affect in
Response to a Faster Versus Slower Peer
Maximizers Satisficers
Raw means
Faster peer 0.54 0.12
Slower peer 0.03 0.06
Difference 0.57 0.18
Adjusted means (with SHS score as covariate)
Faster peer 0.62 0.06
Slower peer 0.06 0.16
Difference 0.56 0.22
Adjusted means (with BDI score as covariate)
Faster peer 0.63 0.04
Slower peer 0.07 0.17
Difference 0.56 0.21
Note. SHS Subjective Happiness Scale; BDI Beck Depression
the laboratory, the question remains how maximizers and satis-
ficers respond to social comparison feedback during the course of
decisions in their everyday life.
Taken together, our findings in Studies 2 and 3 provide support
for the notion that maximizers are more likely than satisficers to
seek out and respond to social comparison information each time
they try to make the perfect choice.
Study 4. Maximizing, Satisficing, and Regret
The first three studies have provided evidence of individual
differences in the disposition to maximize that correlate with other
important variables and are reflected in self-reports about purchas-
ing decisions. Further, there is evidence, both from self-report and
experimental data, that maximizers are more inclined to engage in
social comparisons and to be more sensitive to their contents than
are satisficers. The final study reported here tested whether a
disposition to maximize relates to actual decision-making behav-
ior. We created a game that required participants to make deci-
sions, and investigated whether maximizers made different deci-
sions, and experienced different degrees of satisfaction from those
decisions, than did satisficers.
The second aim of Study 4 was to explore experimentally the
relation between maximizing and regret. We reported in Study 1
consistent and substantial correlations between scores on our Max-
imization Scale and scores on our Regret Scale. We also reported
evidence that partially supported the hypothesis that regret medi-
ates the relations between maximization and various measures of
well-being. On the basis of this evidence, we suggested that one of
the factors that may lead maximizers to experience less happiness
and satisfaction with life than satisficers is maximizersincreased
sensitivity to regretboth experienced and anticipated. If that is
true, then it should be the case that experimental manipulations
designed to enhance the possibility of experiencing regret should
have a larger impact on maximizers. The game used in Study 4 was
designed to manipulate the potential to experience regret.
We used a variant of the ultimatum game (Camerer & Thaler,
1995; Guth, Schmittberger, & Schwarze, 1982). In the ultimatum
game, one player has control of a resource (typically a sum of
money) and offers some part of that resource to another player.
That player may either accept the offer, in which case the resource
is divided in keeping with the offer, or reject it, in which case
neither player gets anything. This game has been of interest to
experimental economists because an analysis of optimal strategy
by a rational maximizer of gain would seem to dictate that the
proposer make the smallest legal offer, secure in the knowledge
that the recipient of that offer will accept it (a little of something
is better than nothing). This pattern is virtually never observed
among actual participants. First, recipients of offers routinely
reject them if they are too low (e.g., less than 30% of the resource).
Second, proposers rarely make such low offers.
With respect to regret, there is an interesting asymmetry to the
ultimatum game. The proposer will always know if he or she has
made an offer that is too low, because the recipient of that offer
will have rejected it. However, the proposer will not know if the
offer was too high because there is no information about the
minimum acceptable offerthe reservation price. When the recip-
ient accepts the offer, it could be that the offer was at exactly the
price necessary for acceptance or that it was higher than necessary.
Thus, one would expect proposers who are worried about regret-
ting their decisions to make unnecessarily high offers. That way,
they will avoid the only source of regret that the situation per-
mitsan offer that is rejected. Suppose, however, that the game
were altered so that proposers would be told what the minimum
acceptable offer was on trials of the game in which their offers
were accepted. Thus, they might offer $5 of a $10 stake, have their
offer accepted, and then find out that an offer of $3 also would
have been accepted. Under these conditions, it is possible to regret
offers that are too high just as it is possible to regret offers that are
too low. Zeelenberg and Beattie (1997) found that offers in this
modified ultimatum game tended to be lower than offers under the
standard procedure. Our question, based on the hypothesis that
maximizers are more sensitive to regret than satisficers, was
whether the effect observed by Zeelenberg and Beattie would be
larger for maximizers than for satisficers.
The participants were 84 students (48 female and 36 male) enrolled in an
introductory psychology course at Swarthmore College who received
course credit.
All participants had previously completed a packet of questionnaire
materials including the Maximization Scale and the Regret Scale. Approx-
imately 7 weeks later, participants were directed to a Web site for partic-
ipation in another study. They were given 2 weeks in which to do the tasks
on the Web site at a time and place that was convenient to them. About
75% of the participants completed the tasks within the allotted time. The
others were sent follow-up reminders by e-mail until all but 7 had com-
plied. No mention was made of the connection between this study and the
questionnaire materials they had completed earlier.
Each participant played two versions of the ultimatum game, in coun-
terbalanced order: a standardversion and a modified version (they
differed in only one respect, described below). Each version included 10
rounds. In the standard version, participants first encountered a screen that
told them that they were Player 1,that the computer would be Player 2,
and that the computer would be making decisions based on the perfor-
mance of real people playing the identical game. Participants were also told
that on each round, they would be given a sum of money (between $8 and
$15). They were to make a whole dollar offer to Player 2 (the computer),
who would know what amount of money was being divided on each round,
and could accept or reject the offer. Participants were further informed that
the computer would simulate Player 2s responses on the basis of past
behavior of people who have played this game. Moreover, it was explained,
on each round, a different past player would be used for the simulation, so
participants were to treat each round as playing with a different Player 2.
For each round, if the participants offer was accepted, Player 2 (the
computer) would getthe amount offered, while Player 1 (the participant)
would get the difference between the total amount and the amount offered.
Thus, for example, if a round started with $12 available, and Player 1 made
an offer of $5 that was accepted, Player 2 would get the $5, and Player 1
would get $7. If the offer was rejected, neither player would get anything.
Participants were also told that there was a chance that they would actually
get to keep whatever amount resulted from a given round of the game. At
the end of each round, participants were asked to click the mouse along an
unmarked line that was anchored on the left with very unsatisfied and on
the right with very satisfied to indicate their satisfaction with that round of
the game.
In the modified version, to which all participants also were exposed, at
the end of a round, in addition to being told whether their offer was
accepted or rejected, they were also told what the smallest offer was that
Player 2 would have acceptedPlayer 2sreservation price.The reser-
vation price of Player 2 was programmed to vary pseudorandomly, with a
low of 13% of the initial sum and a high of 57% of the initial sum. The idea
behind this manipulation was that in the standard game, players never
know that they have offered more than was necessary, and thus will not
experience regret over offers that are too high. In this variant of the game,
participants would know when they had made offers that were more
generous than necessary.
Results and Discussion
Participants offered their counterpart half of the initial sum of
money (rounded to the nearest dollar) on 53.4% of trials, less than
half on 37.3% of trials, and more than half on 9.3% of trials. Given
the low rates of offers above half, the data were collapsed into
offers of less than half (37.3%) and offers of at least half (62.7%).
No significant difference in rates of offering less than half was
found between males and females (42.2% vs. 33.4% for males vs.
females, respectively; t1.5). Maximization score was not cor-
related with the percentage of offers made below half (r.15,
n82, ns). However, an ANCOVA (with maximization score as
a continuous variable) revealed that there was a significant inter-
action between gender and maximization score on the number of
offers made of less than half, F(1, 82) 6.80, p.01. The
relation between maximization score and offers made was thus
analyzed separately for males and females. Among males, partic-
ipants higher in maximization exhibited a significantly higher
percentage of offers below half (r⫽⫺.40, n35, p.02).
Among female participants, no significant association was found
between maximization score and the percentage of offers below
half (r.14, n47, ns).
Within-participant ttests comparing offers made on trials in
which the reservation price of opponents was shown versus those
in which it was not shown did not indicate any difference in the
percentage of offers of less than half (38.4% vs. 36.0%; t1).
Thus, we failed to replicate the findings of Zeelenberg and Beattie
(1997) for the participants as a group. However, experimental
condition did interact with maximization scores in predicting the
number of offers made of less than half by each participant. Using
a repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA), with experi-
mental condition (i.e., whether or not reservation prices were
shown) as the repeated factor, there was a significant Condition
Maximization interaction in the percentage of offers made below
half, F(1, 80) 8.90, p.004. That is to say, satisficers and
maximizers tended to adjust their offers differently on the basis of
whether reservation prices were shown.
To determine the basis of the interaction between experimental
condition and maximization score on offers made, participants
were divided into satisficers and maximizers on the basis of a
median split. Among satisficers, participants exhibited lower rates
of offers of less than half on rounds in which reservation prices
were seen as compared with those in which reservation prices were
not seen (32.2% vs. 39.4%, respectively), t(40) 2.42, p.02a
surprising result given what Zeelenberg and Beattie (1997) found.
Maximizers, however, did the opposite, confirming our expecta-
tions. They revealed higher rates of offering less than half on trials
in which reservation prices were seen as compared with those in
which reservation prices were not seen (48.1% vs. 35.9%, respec-
tively), t(40) 3.42, p.001.
As would be expected, mean ratings of satisfaction were con-
siderably higher on rounds in which the participantsoffer was
accepted (M7.02) than on those in which it was rejected
(M3.18), t(80) 13.40, p.001. Controlling for whether
offers were accepted, higher maximization scores predicted lower
judgments of satisfaction, F(1, 81) 7.60, p.01. Thus, being a
maximizer seemed to mean being less satisfied with the results of
an episode, independent of what those results were. Judgments of
satisfaction did not differ by condition (5.88 vs. 5.97, for standard
vs. modified version, respectively; t1). Further, no interaction
was present between condition and maximization scores in pre-
dicting judgments of satisfaction (F1).
On the basis of a repeated measure ANOVA, there was a trend
suggesting an interaction between maximization score and the
acceptance of offers as predictors of judgments of satisfaction,
F(1, 74) 2.60, p.11. To explore this trend, the associations
between maximization score and ratings of satisfaction were as-
sessed separately for those rounds in which offers were rejected
and those in which offers were accepted. No significant correlation
was found between maximization score and judgments on those
trials in which offers were rejected (r⫽⫺.07, n77, ns), but
participants higher in maximization were relatively less satisfied
during rounds in which offers were accepted (r⫽⫺.31, n82,
p.005). This negative correlation was present both on rounds in
which reservation prices were shown (r⫽⫺.30, n82, p
.006), and those in which reservation prices were not shown (r
.28, n81, p.02).
To summarize, the results of Study 4 were consistent with many,
but not all, of our predictions. In the ultimatum game, male (but
not female) maximizers made smaller offers than male satisficers.
Maximizers of both genders offered less when the recipients
reservation price was going to be revealed (as we expected), but
unexpectedly, satisficers offered more when the recipients reser-
vation price was going to be revealed. Finally, as hypothesized,
maximizers were less satisfied than satisficers with outcomes
generally. However, they were not especially dissatisfied in the
condition in which reservation price was revealed, as had been
The observed interaction on offers made between Maximization
scores and gender may reflect the presence of implicit social
payoffs present in the task. The presumed incentive to make lower
offers when reservation prices are revealed rests on the expectation
that finding out that larger gains could have been made will invite
regret. To the extent that participants experience the game as a
social interaction, however, this may not be the case. Most obvi-
ously, motivations of cooperation and fairness may result in the
experience of maximal utility with an even split as opposed to one
in which the participant gets more than half the money. However,
the social motive of competitiveness might result in higher utility
for the more financially favorable split. So it is possible that the
fact that males, but not females, tended to make lower offers when
reservation prices were revealed may reflect a greater display of
social motivation toward cooperation and fairness among females
and/or greater social motivation toward competitiveness among
males. Indeed, it is further possible that, particularly in a situation
with little truly at stake, the presence of feedback indicating that
the possibility to exploit was present but not taken (the condition
with known reservation prices) could make the choice of an
equitable split even more rewarding to participants with social
motives favoring equity. If so, this might explain the tendency of
satisficers to offer more 5050 splits in the condition in which
reservation prices were revealed than when they were hidden.
Finally, the fact that maximizers were not particularly dissatis-
fied with the condition in which reservation prices were revealed
(thus inviting more regret) might have been due to the above
reported interaction between condition and maximizing score on
offers made. Maximizers tended to make lower offers in the
condition in which reservation prices were shown, which may have
effectively offset the hypothesized increased tendency of this con-
dition to invite regret. Consistent with this interpretation, maxi-
mizerslower offers led to obtaining more than half the available
money on 20.0% of trials in the condition in which the reservation
prices were shown as compared with 12.0% of trials when reser-
vation prices were hidden. Satisficersrates for such gains
were 10.1% and 13.2%, respectively.
General Discussion
The present studies provide evidence for individual differences
in the orientation to seek to maximize ones outcomes in choice
situations. Study 1 reported data with two new scales, a Maximi-
zation Scale and a Regret Scale, designed to measure individual
differences in maximization as a goal and in sensitivity to regret.
With seven independent samples, we found significant positive
correlations between maximization and regret, perfectionism, and
depression, and significant negative correlations between maximi-
zation and happiness, optimism, satisfaction with life, and self-
esteem. We suggested that maximizers may be more concerned
with relative position, and thus more inclined to engage in social
comparison, than satisficers.
We explored this possible relation between maximizing and
social comparison in Studies 2 and 3. In Study 2, we found that
maximizers were more likely than satisficers to report engaging in
social comparison, both in general and in connection with con-
sumer decisions. We also found that maximizers were more re-
gretful and less happy with their consumer decisions than satis-
ficers. In Study 3, we found a tendency for maximizers to be
affected by social comparison, this time in an experimental setting
in which the opportunities to compare oneself with others had
effects on assessments of task ability and on mood for maximizers
but not for satisficers. Finally, in Study 4, we found that maxi-
mizers were less satisfied than satisficers with their results in an
ultimatum bargaining game, and we obtained partial support for
the hypothesis that maximizers are more sensitive to regret than
Wieczorkowska and Burnstein (1999) recently reported evi-
dence for an individual difference variable related to our distinc-
tion between maximizing and satisficing. They distinguished be-
tween individuals who have pointsearch strategies and those
who have intervalstrategies in making decisions. For the former
group, the set of acceptable options is narrow, whereas for the
latter it is broad. The broad intervalstrategy is adaptive when
search costs are high or environmental opportunities are scarce.
The pointstrategy is adaptive when search costs are low or
opportunities are plentiful. Adaptive choosers are those who can
adjust their search strategies in keeping with what the environment
makes available. This distinction between point and interval strat-
egies is somewhat similar to the distinction between maximizing
and satisficing, but there is at least one important difference. The
point strategist differs from the interval strategist in having more
stringent standards of acceptability. However, those standards are
clear and explicit. The maximizer, in contrast, aspires to the (more
amorphous) best.Even in an abundant environment (indeed,
perhaps, especially in an abundant environment), finding the
bestwill always be difficult.
Taken together, our studies suggest that although maximizers
may in general achieve better objective outcomes than satisficers
(as a result of their high standards and exhaustive search and
decision procedures), they are likely to experience these outcomes
as worse subjectively. In what follows, we explore some of the
reasons why this may be so.
First, to be a maximizer is to want the best option. That, in turn,
requires an exhaustive search of the possibilities. Such a search is
hardly possible in any particular domain, and certainly impossible
in all domains. What this may mean to a maximizer is that when
practical constraints make exhaustive search impossible, there will
be anticipated regret about options foregone that might have been
better than the chosen option. There may also be experienced
regret at the chosen option because the chosen option, though the
best of all considered, was not necessarily the best in all respects.
That is, other options that may have been inferior overall may have
been better than the chosen option on one or more dimensions.
Such regret, whether caused by experienced or imagined alterna-
tives, is sure to reduce the satisfaction derived from ones choice.
In this connection, we wonder whether maximizers would be less
likely than satisficers to engage in dissonance reduction, for ex-
ample, in a forced-choice paradigm.
Second, the process of adaptation will make virtually every
consumption experience less satisfying than one expects it to be
(e.g., Brickman & Campbell, 1971; Frederick & Loewenstein,
1999; Kahneman, 1999). What makes the adaptation process even
worse is that people tend not to anticipate it and thus mispredict
their future feelings about all sorts of experiences (Gilbert, Pinel,
Wilson, Blumberg, & Wheatley, 1998; Loewenstein & Schkade,
1999). When the experiences are positive, failure to make allow-
ances for adaptation will make these experiences disappointing,
especially to maximizers, because their expectations will be higher
than those of satisficers (see below).
A particularly relevant example of peoples misprediction of
future subjective states was recently reported by Gilbert and Ebert
(2002), who conducted a series of studies in which participants
made a choice that was either reversible or not. Though they never
actually did reverse their choices, participants greatly preferred
being able to do so to having their decisions be final. Tellingly,
participants who had this decision-reversal option were actually
less satisfied with the outcomes of their decisions than those whose
decisions were irreversible. Gilbert and Ebert argued that when a
decision is final, various psychological processes get recruited
(e.g., dissonance reduction, rationalization) that subjectively im-
prove the chosen alternative and denigrate the rejected one. As a
result of these processes, people experience enhanced satisfaction
with their decision. When people keep the option of decision
reversal, however, these psychological processes are not recruited.
Though the research has yet to be done, we anticipate that maxi-
mizers would be much more inclined to desire to keep options
open than would satisficers.
The effects of adaptation may be worse for maximizers than
satisficers for two reasons. In all likelihood, maximizers have
higher standards of acceptability than satisficers, so that adaptation
is more likely to be disappointing. Also, it seems likely that the
decisions of maximizers entail far greater search costs than the
decisions of satisficers. If we imagine that these search costs get
amortizedover the period of time in which the consequences of
the decision are positive, maximizers have a bigger debtto
amortize than satisficers.
Third, a maximizer is more likely to depend on social compar-
ison than a satisficer. The truth of this claim seems inherent in the
logic of the matter. How does a maximizer decide that he or she
has attained the best possible outcome? Surely, in part, this deci-
sion is shaped by observing the outcomes of others. This logic is
buttressed by the evidence from Studies 2 and 3 that indicates that
maximizers do in fact engage more in social comparison, and are
more affected by it, than satisficers.
Fourth, it is plausible that maximizers have higher expectations
than satisficers. Given the practical constraints on search and
the adaptation processes already mentioned, excessively high
expectations are more likely to be met with disappointment. To
the extent that subjective well-being is in significant part a func-
tion of the relation between expectations and reality, as seems
likely, maximizers will often find that relation unsatisfying and
The foregoing discussion helps explain why being a maximizer
may make one less happy, but what about the relation between
maximizing and depression? Schwartz (2000), in discussing the
choice problem, offered a speculative account of the increase in
clinical depression over the course of the last century. Such an
increase is surprising, because evidence suggests that having con-
trol over what happens is a key to avoiding depression (e.g.,
Abramson, Seligman, & Teasdale, 1978; Peterson & Seligman,
1984; Peterson, Maier, & Seligman, 1993; Seligman, 1975), and it
appears self-evident that adding options enhances ones potential
control. The data reported in Study 1 seem to support Schwartzs
speculation, at least for maximizers. But why? We believe that if
there is a causal link between being a maximizer and depression,
there is a key mediating factorthe presence of an overwhelming
array of options.
Our argument is as follows: the theory of depression based upon
the phenomenon of learned helplessness suggests that depression
results from a lack of control over significant events, coupled with
a particular attributional style for explanations of this lack of
control (Abramson et al., 1978). Consider the kinds of attributions
people might make when decisions lead to disappointing results.
Who is to blame? Is it the decision maker or the world? In a world
in which the options are few, it is reasonable to think that people
will blame the world for disappointing results. But in a world in
which the options are many, people will blame themselves. Thus,
we imagine that maximizing (in triggering disappointment) and a
proliferation of options (in triggering self-blame for disappoint-
ment) will interact to produce internal causal attributions for
failure on the part of maximizers. The proliferation of options has
two consequences related to this theory of depression. First, it
raises peoples standards for determining what counts as a success.
From breakfast cereals to automobiles to colleges to careers, it
makes sense for people to expect more when the options are
plentiful than when they are scarce. Second, failure to meet those
standards in a domain containing multiple options encourages one
to treat failures as the result of personal shortcomings rather than
situational limitations, thus encouraging a causal attribution for
failure that we might call depressogenic.So, in a world of
limited options, a maximizer might be more disappointed than a
satisficer with the results of his or her decisions without taking
personal responsibility for the disappointing results. But in a world
of limitless options, there is simply no excuse for failure.
What the above argument suggests is that it is a mistake to
equate choice with a sense of control, so that the more one has of
the former, the more one has of the latter. The relation between
choice and perceived control may, for various reasons already
discussed, be nonmonotonic (see Iyengar & Lepper, 2000). It may
be that what is often critical about control in preventing or allevi-
ating depression is having achoice, not having many choices. For
example, a woman may be depressed because she feels she cannot
get out of a bad relationship. Or she may be depressed because she
cannot control her own depression from coming and going. The
curein cases like these is not an array of choices but achoice.
Is maximizing always bad for peoples well-being? This seems
highly unlikely. Although relying on a maximizing strategy might
produce adverse consequences in some contexts, it is conceivable
that in others, maximizing will be an adaptive strategy. For exam-
ple, an individual who responds to a health threat by searching for
information, asking questions, and striving to attain the best treat-
ment available may get better results than someone who simply
selects a treatment that is sufficient. Maximizers may engage in
more active coping strategies such as planful problem solving and
seeking social support, whereas satisficers may cope by accepting
the situation and engaging in positive reappraisal. Some of these
coping responses may be more adaptive, others may be less
Thus, it seems that there are real advantages to adopting a
maximizing strategy. Presumably, not being satisfied with good
enoughspurs one on to achievements that less ambitious people
will not attain, though there is as yet no evidence on this point.
Perhaps in the domain of action, greater achievements by maxi-
mizers compensate for lower satisfaction with those achievements,
whatever they are. But in the domain of consumption, the point of
which, after all, is subjective satisfaction, this compensatory fea-
ture of maximization is much less clear.
Caveats and Questions
Throughout this discussion, we have been treating maximizers
and satisficers as if there is a clear and distinct line that separates
them, measurable by some instrument such as our Maximization
Scale. But it is surely more accurate to say that people differ in the
extent to which they are maximizers, rather than falling on one or
the other side of a maximization line. That said, interesting re-
search questions abound. There must be some variation from one
domain of choice to another in the extent to which one maximizes.
No one maximizes in all domains. For example, we doubt that
anyone searches for the prettiest postage stamp to affix to a federal
tax return. We have presented no data on the possible domain
specificity of a maximization orientation. Indeed, several of the
items on the Maximization Scale were written quite deliberately to
be vague as to domain. It is possible that where on the maximizing/
satisficing continuum one falls will be a reflection not of how high
ones standards of acceptability are in general, but of how many
different domains of choice are dominated by a maximizing ori-
entation. Research into the possible domain specificity of the
maximization orientation, and into whether maximizers and satis-
ficers differ in the standards they apply to decisions in general or
in the number of domains in which they apply maximizing stan-
dards is in order. And beyond the matter of standards, it is
important to note whether maximizers and satisficers differ in their
scaling of the objective results of their decisions. It would be
interesting to know whether maximizers and satisficers respond
differently to measures of objective happinessrecently pio-
neered by Kahneman (1999).
A second issue to be investigated is whether social comparison
is not the only kind of comparison to which maximizers are more
sensitive than satisficers. Michalos (1980, 1986), in his multiple
discrepancies theory,suggests that in assessing well-being, peo-
ple evaluate not only what they have in relation to others, but also
what they have in relation to what they expected to have, what they
have had in the past, what they expect to have in the future, what
they need, and what they deserve. Each of these assessments is a
possible source of systematic differences between satisficers and
maximizers, with maximizers consistently experiencing larger
gapsbetween hopes and expectations on the one hand, and
reality on the other, than satisficers do.
Another possibility worth exploring is whether maximizers and
satisficers differ in what they perceive to be at stake when they
make decisions. For the satisficer, all that may be at stake is the
actual result of the decisionthe quality of the good or the
experience that is chosen. For the maximizer, the results of choices
may, in addition, convey information about the self. That is,
maximizers may take the outcomes of decisions as evidence about
how smart, shrewd, or discerning they are as choosers. Each choice
a maximizer makes may say something important about the max-
imizer as a person. If it is true that maximizers have so much riding
on the outcomes of decisions, and if it is true, on the basis of
arguments made above, that the outcomes of decisions will usually
be disappointing to maximizers, it becomes unsurprising that max-
imizers are more depressed, more unhappy, and less optimistic
than satisficers. Related to this possibility is another. If maximizers
care more than satisficers about choices and their outcomes in
general, they may be vulnerable not only to choices presented by
the world, but to choices that they conjure up themselves. For
example, the maximizing university student might imagine that
there must be some way to combine a double major in finance and
biology (to keep both Master of Business Administration and
medical school futures open) with a minor in art, while spending
a semester in Thailand and a semester in Mexico, even though all
university rules indicate that this is impossible. The satisficer is
less likely to be plagued by opportunities that exist only in ones
Further, future research should examine process differences
between maximizers and satisficers when it comes to actual choice
behavior. That is, when actually making a choice, do maximizers
examine more options before selecting? Do they seek more infor-
mation about alternatives? Do they desire more opportunities to
reverse decisions? Do they engage in more postdecision counter-
factual thinking and experience more postdecision regret? Are they
more adversely affected by multiple as opposed to few choice
options? The present article presents what we think are powerful
data on the relation between maximization and subjective experi-
ence. It remains to be determined whether maximizers also con-
sistently act differently than satisficers.
Finally, we should note that in discussing the relation between
maximizing and dispositional happiness, we have been assuming
throughout the article that the causal arrow runs from maximizing
to unhappiness. Although this direction seems plausible to us, we
must acknowledge that alternative conceptualizations are possible.
For example, people who are dispositionally unhappy are likely to
be disappointed with the outcomes of many of their choices and
decisions. This disappointment may be (mis)attributed to the de-
cisions themselves, rather than their own fundamental unhappi-
ness, leading such individuals continually to strive to make bet-
terchoices and judgments, in an ultimately fruitless effort to
enhance their happiness. Of course, such a process could also
produce a cyclical relationship, whereby unhappy individuals at-
tempt to maximize (in a misguided effort to raise their affect),
leading to more unhappiness. It is critical for future research to
clarify whether being maximizers makes people unhappy or being
unhappy makes people maximizers. At this point, however, we
simply acknowledge that just as happiness may be a matter of
choice (i.e., howand even whetherwe make choices influences
whether we are happy or not), choice may also be a matter of
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Received May 23, 2001
Revision received May 1, 2002
Accepted May 2, 2002
... Maximizing refers to a behavioral tendency of striving for the most optimal choice, whereas satisficing (i.e., satisfy and suffice) refers to a behavioral tendency of choosing and being satisfied with a "good enough" option [18,19]. A typical maximizer invests additional time and explores a broader array of options in order to arrive at the best decision [20][21][22], generally leading to objectively better decision outcomes compared to satisficers [23]. ...
... Contrary to what one might expect, I argue that maximizers would, surprisingly, show greater resistance to choices suggested by algorithms when compared to satisficers. This argument builds upon prior research, which indicates that the act of making choices carries intrinsic meaning for maximizers [18,24,25]. In essence, the very process of choosing holds significance for maximizers. ...
... In essence, the very process of choosing holds significance for maximizers. As Schwartz et al. [18] argued, maximizers view their choices as a reflection of their own identities. Since choice is tantamount to self-identity for maximizers, receiving negative feedback about their choices can potentially damage their self-concept and, consequently, lead to increased cognitive dissonance [26]. ...
Full-text available
The previous literature has provided mixed findings regarding whether consumers appreciate or are opposed to algorithms. The primary goal of this paper is to address these inconsistencies by identifying the maximizing tendency as a critical moderating variable. In Study 1, it was found that maximizers, individuals who strive for the best possible outcomes, exhibit greater reactance toward algorithm-recommended choices than satisficers, those who are satisfied with a good-enough option. This increased reactance also resulted in decreased algorithm adoption intention. Study 2 replicated and extended the findings from Study 1 by identifying the moderating role of choice goals. Maximizers are more likely to experience reactance to algorithm-recommended options when the act of choosing itself is intrinsically motivating and meaningful (i.e., autotelic choices) compared to when the decision is merely a means to an end (i.e., instrumental choices). The results of this research contribute to a nuanced understanding of how consumers with different decision-making styles navigate the landscape of choice in the digital age. Furthermore, it offers practical insights for firms that utilize algorithmic recommendations in their businesses.
... One size does not fit all when it comes to purporting consumer decision-making styles. In fact, the literature recognizes two main ways of coming to a decision: satisficing versus maximizing (Schwartz et al., 2002;Simon, 1955). Whereas satisficers are appeased with an option meeting their minimum requirements, maximizers want to make the "best" decision (Schwartz et al., 2002). ...
... In fact, the literature recognizes two main ways of coming to a decision: satisficing versus maximizing (Schwartz et al., 2002;Simon, 1955). Whereas satisficers are appeased with an option meeting their minimum requirements, maximizers want to make the "best" decision (Schwartz et al., 2002). As such, they are willing to invest more time and resources in their choices (Dar-Nimrod et al., 2009) and seek and compare a wide range of options to attain their goal(s) (Cheek & Schwartz, 2016;Schwartz, 2004). ...
... As such, they are willing to invest more time and resources in their choices (Dar-Nimrod et al., 2009) and seek and compare a wide range of options to attain their goal(s) (Cheek & Schwartz, 2016;Schwartz, 2004). While maximizers typically achieve better decision outcomes than satisficers (Iyengar et al., 2006), they are less satisfied with these outcomes (Schwartz et al., 2002). Indeed, maximizers often engage in counterfactual thinking (Leach & Patall, 2013;Schwartz et al., 2002); are more likely to ruminate over forgone options (Bruine de Bruin et al., 2016); experience a higher level of regret in relation to the decision made (Huang & Zeelenberg, 2012); and are more neurotic and less optimistic (Bruine de Bruin et al., 2016;Purvis et al., 2011;Schwartz et al., 2002). ...
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A maximizing decision‐making style is generally associated with lower individual well‐being. That is, even though maximizers invest more time and resources in finding the best option and achieve better outcomes than satisficers, they are still more dissatisfied with those outcomes. Contrary to this general consensus that maximizing is negatively associated with overall well‐being, across two studies we show that this decision‐making style is actually positively associated with individuals' financial well‐being. We find that measured dispositional maximizing is positively associated with financial well‐being, regardless of whether maximizing is operationalized as having high standards or the tendency to engage in alternative search (Study 1) and replicate this relationship with experimentally induced situational maximizing (Study 2). We identify financial self‐control (both measured as a trait and as the behavioral outcome of an experimental choice task) as a mediator of the aforementioned relationship. Our findings offer guidance to financial service providers and policymakers on how to improve consumers' financial well‐being, such as encouraging consumers to engage in a more meticulous search while evaluating financial products and services (e.g., home loans, retirement plans, investments) to identify the best possible option.
... findings suggest that there may be a cycle where, on one hand and as shown by the literature, emotions influence decisions (e.g. Lyubomirsky, King, and Diener 2005;Schwartz et al. 2002), and behaviours (Baron 1990;Barsade 2002;George and Bettenhausen 1990;Spector and Fox 2002); on the other hand, such decisions and behaviours in turn influence emotions. The emotions that are being influenced include those of the acting individuals, but also those of the wider group, in our case the NNs. ...
Emotions are an important component of human life, influencing dyadic and organization-wide interactions. More specifically, leaders’ emotions affect positively and negatively not only their followers, but also organizational and group outcomes. Through a multiple case study of four collaborative governance networks, this paper explores whether and how leaders’ emotions influence network success. The results show that the emotional states that leaders bring into the network seem to influence its functioning: positive emotions seem to propel its activities and outcomes; negative emotions appear to curb them. Emotions seem also to interact with network identity and trust in affecting network success.
This chapter presents an overview of approaches related to the handling of preferences in (group) recommendation scenarios. We first introduce the concept of preferences and then discuss how preferences can be handled for different recommendation approaches. Furthermore, we sketch how to deal with inconsistencies such as contradicting preferences of individual users.
Scant research has addressed how maximizing, or the tendency to seek the ‘best’ alternative and not settle (Schwartz et al., 2002; Simon, 1955), relates to adolescents’ vocational behavior. In this exploratory study, high school seniors completed measures of maximizing, choice/commitment anxiety, career decidedness, and career exploration time. Seniors also expressed why they considered themselves maximizers or not and described reasons behind feelings of anxiety about career selection. Results showed that adolescents high in maximizing tendency also had heightened choice/commitment anxiety, higher decidedness, and had spent less time exploring careers. Adolescents explained reasons behind maximizing tendencies, such as finding stable careers and challenging themselves. They also provided reasons behind their career choice anxiety, including fear of failure or regret, inadequate work environments, and lack of opportunities. Overall, these findings clarify cognitive and emotional aspects influencing career decision-making in adolescents. Career counseling services can use this information to anticipate concerns and develop prevention programs.
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People prefer to make changeable decisions rather than unchangeable decisions because they do not realize that they may be more satisfied with the latter. Photography students believed that having the opportunity to change their minds about which prints to keep would not influence their liking of the prints. However, those who had the opportunity to change their minds liked their prints less than those who did not (Study 1). Although the opportunity to change their minds impaired the postdecisional processes that normally promote satisfaction (Study 2a), most participants wanted to have that opportunity (Study 2b). The results demonstrate that errors in affective forecasting can lead people to behave in ways that do not optimize their happiness and well-being.
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Americans now live in a time and a place in which freedom and autonomy are valued above all else and in which expanded opportunities for self-determination are regarded as a sign of the psychological well-being of individuals and the moral well-being of the culture. This article argues that freedom, autonomy, and self-determination can become excessive, and that when that happens, freedom can be experienced as a kind of tyranny. The article further argues that unduly influenced by the ideology of economics and rational-choice theory, modern American society has created an excess of freedom, with resulting increases in people's dissatisfaction with their lives and in clinical depression. One significant task for a future psychology of optimal functioning is to deemphasize individual freedom and to determine which cultural constraints are necessary for people to live meaningful and satisfying lives.
The psychological syndrome of learned helplessness is a uniquely modern phenomenon, deeply rooted in cultural concepts of personal power and security. This timely and valuable work examines learned helplessness with reference to the salient emphases in contemporary culture of individuality and personal control. An indispensable reference of interest to a broad spectrum of researchers in psychology.
Consumer choice is often influenced by the context, defined by the set of alternatives under consideration. Two hypotheses about the effect of context on choice are proposed. The first hypothesis, tradeoff contrast, states that the tendency to prefer an alternative is enhanced or hindered depending on whether the tradeoffs within the set under consideration are favorable or unfavorable to that option. The second hypothesis, extremeness aversion, states that the attractiveness of an option is enhanced if it is an intermediate option in the choice set and is diminished if it is an extreme option. These hypotheses can explain previous findings (e.g., attraction and compromise effects) and predict some new effects, demonstrated in a series of studies with consumer products as choice alternatives. Theoretical and practical implications of the findings are discussed.