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The tyranny of choice: A cross-cultural investigation of maximizing-satisficing effects on well-being

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The present research investigated the relationship between individual differences in maximizing versus satisficing (i.e., seeking to make the single best choice, rather than a choice that is merely good enough) and well-being, in interaction with the society in which an individual lives. Data from three distinct cultural groups (adults), drawn respectively from the U.S. (N=307), Western Europe (N=263), and China (N=218), were analyzed. The results showed that, in societies where choice is abundant (i.e., U.S. and Western Europe), maximizers reported less well-being than satisficers, and this difference was mediated by experienced regret. However, in the non-western society (China), maximizing was unrelated to well-being. Although in China maximizing was associated with more experiences of regret, regret had no substantial relationship to well-being. These patterns also emerged for the individual facets of the maximizing scale, although with a notable difference between the U.S. and Europe for the High Standards facet. It is argued that, in societies where abundant individual choice is highly valued and considered the ultimate route to personal happiness, maximizers' dissatisfaction and regret over imperfect choices is a detrimental factor in well-being, whereas it is a much less crucial determinant of well-being in societies that place less emphasis on choice as the way to happiness.
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Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 7, No. 6, November 2012, pp. 689–704
The tyranny of choice: a cross-cultural investigation of
maximizing-satisficing effects on well-being
Arne Roets
Barry Schwartz
Yanjun Guan
Abstract
The present research investigated the relationship between individual differences in maximizing versus satisficing
(i.e., seeking to make the single best choice, rather than a choice that is merely good enough) and well-being, in interac-
tion with the society in which an individual lives. Data from three distinct cultural groups (adults), drawn respectively
from the U.S. (N=307), Western Europe (N=263), and China (N=218), were analyzed. The results showed that, in so-
cieties where choice is abundant (i.e., U.S. and Western Europe), maximizers reported less well-being than satisficers,
and this difference was mediated by experienced regret. However, in the non-western society (China), maximizing was
unrelated to well-being. Although in China maximizing was associated with more experiences of regret, regret had no
substantial relationship to well-being. These patterns also emerged for the individual facets of the maximizing scale, al-
though with a notable difference between the U.S. and Europe for the High Standards facet. It is argued that, in societies
where abundant individual choice is highly valued and considered the ultimate route to personal happiness, maximizers’
dissatisfaction and regret over imperfect choices is a detrimental factor in well-being, whereas it is a much less crucial
determinant of well-being in societies that place less emphasis on choice as the way to happiness.
Keywords: well-being, maximizing, choice, cross-cultural.
1 Introduction
Autonomy and choice in individual decision making
are highly valued in western societies. Greater choice
can provide two types of benefits. First, it can enable
choosers to find exactly what they want. And, secondly,
it can enhance their feeling of autonomy and freedom.
Nonetheless, various studies have recently cautioned that
unlimited choice may come at a price and does not al-
ways benefit mental health and well-being (e.g., Botti
& Iyengar, 2004, 2006; Botti, Orfali & Iyengar, 2009;
Fisman, Iyengar, Kamenica & Simonson, 2006, Iyen-
gar, Jiang & Huberman, 2004; Iyengar & Lepper, 2000;
but see Chernev, 2003; Scheibehenne, Greifeneder &
Todd, 2009, 2010, for contrary evidence). In this regard,
Schwartz (2000, 2004) argued that, as options are added
within a domain of choice, several problems may materi-
alize. First, the process of collecting adequate and com-
plete information about options makes choosing more la-
borious. Second, as options expand, people’s standards
for what is an acceptable outcome rise. And thirdly, peo-
ple may come to believe that any imperfect result is their
This research was supported by a research grant from the National
Fund for Scientific Research-Flanders (Belgium) awarded to the first
author.
Department of Developmental, Personality and Social Psy-
chology, Henri Dunantlaan 2, B-9000, Ghent, Belgium. Email:
Arne.Roets@Ugent.be.
Swarthmore College, U.S.A.
Renmin University of China, People’s Republic of China.
fault, because, with so many options, they have no ex-
cuse for not getting the “right” one. Ironically, however,
the more options there are, the more likely it becomes
that one does not choose the best option (e.g., Hanoch,
Rice, Cummings & Wood, 2009; Hanoch, Wood, Barnes,
Liu & Rice, 2011). These problems have become espe-
cially relevant in contemporary western societies
1
, where
people are overwhelmed by near-unlimited options in all
domains of life. In this regard, Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan,
Swinder, and Tipton (1985) already argued that people
in western societies feel increasingly uneasy about their
life decisions because they are unsure about whether they
are making the right choices, and according to Schwartz
(2000, 2009), this “excess of freedom” (p. 79) has re-
sulted in a dramatic increase in people’s dissatisfaction
with their lives and even in clinical depression.
However, not everybody may be equally sensitive to
the problems that come with exposure to an abundance
1
In line with Henrich, Heine, and Norenzavan (2010), we use the
term “western” to refer to those countries clustered in the northwest of
Europe (including Belgium and the Netherlands), and British-descent
countries such as the United States. Although we recognize the limi-
tations of this label, we believe it is the most appropriate label for the
present study.
We refer to Western Europe, the U.S., and China as different “so-
cieties, with the term society being largely interchangeable with the
term culture. However, when using the term society, we want to signal
that the distinction is not limited to cultural values, but also pertains to
substantial differences in, for example, economic and political systems,
which are not explicitly captured by the label culture.
689
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 7, No. 6, November 2012 Tyranny of choice
690
of choice. It has been argued that people who always
want to maximize the outcomes of their choices are most
vulnerable to the negative effects of too much choice
(e.g., Schwartz, 2000; Schwartz, Ward, Monterosso,
Lyubomirsky, White & Lehman, 2002). For these people,
an excess of options becomes problematic because, to
make sure they choose the optimal option, all information
about each alternative has to be considered, which is of-
ten difficult or even impossible. Moreover, there is likely
to be a lingering doubt that the best option has neverthe-
less been missed, especially when it has not been possible
to consider all options. Hence, the potential for regret is
ever present, because there is always the possibility that
there is a better option “out there”, and failing to find it
means a failure to optimize personal satisfaction. On the
other hand, people can approach choices differently, us-
ing a “good enough” strategy, in which any option that
meets a certain threshold of acceptability is considered
satisfactory. In this approach to choice, the individual
does not have to consider all information about each op-
tion, the standards for what is acceptable are more mod-
est (meaning that several options can be satisfactory) and
these standards do not depend on the number of options
(because adding more options does not suddenly render a
good option unacceptable). Moreover, there is no failure
in choosing a merely decent, but not perfect, option when
adopting a “good enough” approach to choice.
Importantly, Schwartz et al. (2002) found considerable,
stable individual differences in people’s dispositional ten-
dency to use either a “good enough” strategy or a “max-
imizing” strategy. People on either side of this disposi-
tional continuum have been labeled satisficers and maxi-
mizers, respectively, and the latter group is expected to be
more vulnerable to the problems that arise from an excess
of choice. Indeed, various studies showed that maximiz-
ers experience higher levels of regret compared to satisfi-
cers and that they show lower levels of satisfaction with
decisions, and lower levels of well-being more generally.
They are more dissatisfied with their lives, less happy,
more depressed, and less optimistic (e.g., Chang et al.,
2011; Dar-Nimrod, Rawn, Lehman & Schwartz, 2009;
Iyengar, Wells & Schwartz, 2006; Purvis, Howell & Iyer,
2011; Schwartz et al., 2002).
1.1 The potential role of society in the re-
lationship between individual maximiz-
ing and well-being
Studies showing that a dispositional tendency to maxi-
mize (measured with the Maximizing scale, see below)
can have detrimental effects on the individual’s psycho-
logical well-being have generally been conducted in the
U.S., where choice is indeed abundant or even exces-
sive in everyday life and where individual choice and
self-determination are considered to be the ultimate way
to pursue personal happiness and well-being (Schwartz,
2000; 2004). Importantly, the seminal cross-cultural
work on value clusters by Shalom Schwartz (1999) has
shown that personal autonomy is not only highly valued
in the U.S. but also in Western Europe. Indeed, both
cultures consider personal choice as an important path
toward happiness, and although in Western Europe, the
number of options for some choices in everyday life (e.g.,
buying cereal) may not be as excessive as in the U.S.,
the options are certainly also abundant (Henrich, Heine
& Norenzavan, 2010). Hence, a negative relationship
between maximizing and well-being can be expected in
Western Europe as well.
However, Henrich and colleagues (2010) also argued
that to understand human psychology, behavioral scien-
tists cannot assume their findings obtained in western
countries to be broadly generalizable. In particular, the
authors explicitly referred to substantial differences be-
tween western versus non-western societies “in the extent
to which people value choice and in the range of behav-
iors over which they feel they are making choices” (p. 71)
as prime examples for their assertion. In non-western so-
cieties, the context and meaning of individual choice may
be quite different from the U.S. and Western Europe; in-
dividual choice may be less valued, the number of options
in everyday choices (e.g., job or consumer choices) may
be more limited, and “personal” choices may to be more
strongly directed by the government. For instance, in
China, the opportunities to hold state sector jobs and have
employer-provided healthcare benefits were greatly influ-
enced by China’s hukou system, which is an institution
that controls population movement (Liu, 2005). More-
over, in at least some Asian societies, the very notion of
“choice” is less salient and less tied into definitions of self
than it is in western societies (e.g., Markus & Schwartz,
2010; Savani, Markus, Naidu, Kumar & Berlia, 2010).
It could be argued that, if choices and options in a
society are less abundant, gaining adequate information
about the different options to make a choice is actually
more achievable. Also, people’s standards for what is
acceptable are likely to be more modest and an imper-
fect outcome can be more easily attributed to the mere
lack of a perfect option in the limited set of possible out-
comes, or to external factors such as government regula-
tions. Finally, if notions of the self are less tied up with
the idea of choice, making imperfect choices is likely to
be less consequential. Hence, it seems that many of the
choice-related problems leading to reduced well-being
may be eliminated by the boundaries of the societal con-
text. When it comes to individual psychological well-
being, could it be that maximizers—who are most vul-
nerable to the negative effects of excessive choice—are
actually better off in non-western cultures like China than
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 7, No. 6, November 2012 Tyranny of choice
691
they are in the U.S. or Western Europe? In particular, it is
possible that maximizers in China experience regret over
imperfect outcomes just like their counterparts in western
societies, but, given that individual choice is less abun-
dant and less valued as the way to happiness, such regret
may be less detrimental to general well-being than it is in
societies that have this abundance of choice, that attach
paramount value to individual choice, and that attribute
unhappiness to failure to make the right choices.
1.2 Measuring individual differences in
maximizing
To measure individual differences in the tendency to max-
imize, Schwartz et al. (2002) developed a 13-item Max-
imization Scale consisting of three facet scales (see Ap-
pendix A). The Alternative Search facet scale contains
six items and taps into the degree to which an individ-
ual keeps searching for “better” alternatives, even after
having found a satisfying one. The Decision Difficulty
facet scale is composed of four items and refers to ex-
periencing difficulty in everyday choosing and decisions.
The High Standards facet scale consists of three items and
refers to being satisfied only by meeting the highest stan-
dards and choosing the single best option. As a general
measure, Schwartz et al.s (2002) Maximizing Scale has
been successfully used in previous research, and individ-
uals scoring high on the scale have repeatedly been found
to experience lower levels of well-being (e.g., Chang et
al., 2011; Iyengar et al., 2006; Purvis, Howell & Iyer,
2011; Schwartz et al., 2002). Nonetheless, there has been
some controversy about the meaning of the scale and
its relationships with well-being at the facet level. The
High Standards facet in particular, and its relationships
with the other facets and with well-being, has been the
subject of scholarly debate. Recently, a study by Rim,
Turner, Betz, and Nygren (2011) showed that, in line
with expectations, the Decision Difficulty and Alternative
Search facets were negatively related to optimism and
self-regard, but the High Standards facet showed small
positive relationships to optimism and self-regard in two
samples of U.S. undergraduate students. Similar results
were obtained by Purvis et al. (2011), who investigated
the relationships of the facet scales with life satisfaction
and happiness. Previously, Diab, Gillespie, and High-
house (2008) had already focused on the High Standards
facet, which they believed to be central to the maximiz-
ing concept. In particular, they constructed an alternative
scale including the three items of Schwartz et al.s (2002)
High Standards facet and six additional items tapping into
“a general tendency to pursue the identification of the op-
timal alternative” (p. 365). Subsequently, in a sample
of U.S. undergraduate psychology students, these authors
found that, unlike the Schwartz et al. (2002) Maximizing
Scale, their alternative scale was unrelated to life satis-
faction. Based on these findings, it has been argued that
the high standards aspect of maximizing may not have a
detrimental effect on well-being (Diab et al., 2008) or that
it might even be beneficial (Rim et al., 2011).
Reviewing the literature in this debate and the items
of the High Standards facet scale, we believe that the in-
consistent findings regarding the effect of high standards
on well-being may be due to the inherent ambivalence of
the high standards concept and the items used to measure
it. Indeed, having high standards in making choices can
be interpreted (by both researchers and participants) as
“nothing but the perfect choice is good enough for me”,
but also as “I’m not easily content and I aim to get the
most out of my choices. These two interpretations are
highly reminiscent of a recurrent issue in the related con-
cept of perfectionism. In particular, in his seminal work
on perfectionism, Hamacheck (1978) made a distinction
between “Normal” and “Neurotic” forms of perfection-
ism, in which normal perfectionists are those who “derive
a very real pleasure from labors of a painstaking effort
and who feel free to be less precise as the situation per-
mits” (p. 15), whereas neurotic perfectionists are those
“whose efforts—even their best ones—never seem quite
enough. . . and are unable to feel satisfaction” (p. 15).
Various labels have been used in the literature (Stroeber
& Otto, 2006) to denote this distinction between “posi-
tive” (adaptive) and “negative” (maladaptive) perfection-
ism, but evidence for their opposite effects on a variety
of outcomes is plentiful and fairly consistent. In a recent
review of the perfectionism literature, Stoeber and Otto
(2006) concluded that, despite the mixed findings in pre-
vious research, there is overall evidence that the adaptive
form of perfectionism is often associated with a variety
of positive outcomes and higher well-being, whereas the
maladaptive form is associated with negative outcomes
and lower well-being. For example, recently, Chang et
al. (2011) showed opposite effects of these two forms
of perfectionism on life satisfaction. This study also re-
vealed strong relationships between negative perfection-
ism and maximizing. Yet, most interestingly, weaker but
substantial relationships between positive perfectionism
and maximizing were obtained as well. Hence, insights
from the perfectionism literature may prove helpful for a
better understanding of the high standards aspect of max-
imizing and its ambiguous relationship with well-being.
Although we acknowledge the current controversy
about what the Schwartz et al.s (2002) Maximizing Scale
measures, and what a maximizing scale should measure,
we believe this three-faceted Maximizing Scale is the
most appropriate and most informative for the present re-
search to assess cultural differences in maximizing and
its correlates, as well as to provide insights in the debated
High Standards facet.
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 7, No. 6, November 2012 Tyranny of choice
692
1.3 The present research
The main research objective of the present study was to
investigate possible societal differences in the relation-
ship between maximizing and general well-being. In par-
ticular, we hypothesized that 1a) there is a strong link be-
tween maximizing and well-being in the U.S., consistent
with previous research, 1b) this relationship also emerges
in other western societies (i.e., Western Europe), and 1c)
this link is considerably weaker or even absent in non-
western societies (i.e., China). Moreover, we investigated
the role of regret—proposed by Schwartz et al. (2002) to
be a principle mediator of the detrimental effect of max-
imizing on well-being—in each society. In particular,
we hypothesized that 2a) maximizing increases the like-
lihood of experiencing regret, largely independent of the
society in which one lives, but 2b) in societies were indi-
vidual choice is abundant and explicitly proclaimed as the
way to self-actualization and happiness (i.e., western so-
cieties), decisional regret has a much more profound im-
pact on individual well-being than in societies in which
choice is less central and less available. Hence, in our
hypotheses, we propose that maximizing does not have
the same detrimental impact on well-being in China as
it has in western societies because, although maximizing
increases regret, the experience of regret over imperfect
individual choices does not affect the individual’s well-
being as much in China as it does in western societies.
We tested our hypotheses for the overall Maximizing
Scale, but also for the three Maximizing facet scales in-
dividually, and we particularly focused on the High Stan-
dards facet that has yielded inconsistent findings in pre-
vious research.
Also, whereas previous research usually considered
only one or two specific measures related to well-being,
we adopted a more comprehensive approach, using five
different indicative measures to obtain a stable, global
measure of well-being.
2 Method
2.1 Participants
The present sample consisted of adult respondents from
three different societies: 263 participants from the cen-
tral part of Western Europe (78% Dutch-speaking Bel-
gian and 22% Dutch respondents), 218 participants from
mainland China, and 307 participants from the U.S. com-
pleted the full questionnaire. The European sample and
the Chinese sample were recruited by research students
from a Belgian and a mainland Chinese university, re-
spectively, who contacted their own and their parents’
extended social network. Participants in the U.S. were
recruited from a pool of registered online participants in
various research projects conducted by faculty and stu-
dents at a west coast U.S. business school. European and
U.S. respondents who agreed to participate in the study
were provided with a web-link to complete the question-
naire anonymously on a secure university website. Chi-
nese respondents were given the choice between complet-
ing the questionnaire online or in pen and paper format.
In all three subsamples, most of the participants were
female (65%, 61.5%, and 66.1% in Europe, China, and
the U.S. respectively) and most participants had received
some form of higher education (69.6%, 89.9%, and
85.2%, respectively). Mean age was 34.3, 32.6, and
41.1 years in the European, Chinese and U.S. subsam-
ple, respectively. With regard to income, 23.3% (Europe),
12.8% (China) and 10.5% (U.S.) reported to have a “sub-
stantially less than average” income, 15.2%, 33.5%, and
19.1% had a “less than average” income, 40.5%, 50.9%,
and 46.2% reported an “average” income, 14.8%, 2.8%,
and 20.3% reported a “more than average” income, and
6.2%, 0.0%, and 3.6% reported a “substantially higher
than average” income.
2.2 Measures
Participants completed a questionnaire including the
Maximizing Scale, the Regret Scale, a perfectionism
scale, and a variety of scales tapping into general well-
being. Means, SD’s and Cronbach alpha’s for the to-
tal sample and the three subsamples are reported in Ta-
ble 1, and intercorrelations between the variables are re-
ported in Appendix B. The Dutch and the Chinese ver-
sions of the questionnaire were carefully translated by
native speakers with high proficiency in English (i.e., the
first and third authors, respectively) who double-checked
the final translation with other colleagues.
Maximizing Scale. All participants completed the 13-
item Maximizing Scale (Schwartz et al., 2002) on 6-point
Likert-type scales ranging from (1) completely disagree
to (6) completely agree. The different items in this scale
generally refer to everyday behaviors that are easily rec-
ognizable for Americans, Europeans and Chinese alike
(e.g., watching TV, shopping for a gift, see Appendix
A). Exploratory Factor Analysis with Oblimin rotation in
the total sample and in each subsample revealed a simi-
lar structure with three correlated components, and items
generally loading on the expected facet.
2
For the total
2
In all three samples, the items from the High Standards facet clearly
loaded on a separate component with a range of [.61–.83], [.64–.71],
and [.65–74], in the sample from the U.S., China and Europe, re-
spectively. The items from the Decision Difficulty facet also clearly
loaded on a separate component with a range of [.60–.80], [.62–.76],
and [.51–70], respectively, except for item 8 in the European sample
which only loaded .19 on the expected component and had its primary
loading on Alternative Search. Items from the Alternative Search facet
also loaded on a separate component with a range of [.42–.80], [.51–
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 7, No. 6, November 2012 Tyranny of choice
693
Table 1: Mean, standard deviation and Chronbach’s alpha for the measures (total sample and subsamples).
Total Europe China U.S.
M (SD) α M (SD) α M (SD) α M (SD) α
Maximizing [1–6] 3.34 (0.76) .78 3.10 (0.69) .73 3.46 (0.74) .80 3.48 (0.77) .78
Alternative Search 3.27 (0.93) .69 2.98 (0.88) .64 3.37 (0.90) .67 3.44 (0.93) .67
Decision Difficulty 3.09 (0..05) .65 2.90 (0.91) .50 3.25 (0..01) .73 3.13 (0..17) .73
High Standards 3.83 (0.94) .59 3.59 (0.94) .57 3.89 (0.91) .59 4.01 (0.90) .59
Regret [1–6] 3.53 (1.09) .80 3.25 (1.06) .77 3.87 (0.92) .74 3.54 (1.03) .84
Perceived Stress [1–5] 2.76 (0.59) .87 2.69 (0.57) .89 2.78 (0.47) .78 2.79 (0.66) .89
Happiness [1–7] 4.86 (1.27) .85 4.91 (1.17) .85 4.90 (1.19) .74 4.78 (1.40) .90
Satisfaction [1–7] 4.03 (1.04) .90 4.72 (1.22) .88 4.08 (1.38) .88 4.48 (1.43) .92
GHQ-12 [1–4] 3.13 (0.64) .70 3.04 (0.58) .91 2.89 (0.49) .85 2.98 (0.67) .91
WHO Well-being [1–6] 4.03 (1.04) .88 3.97 (0.95) .87 3.45 (1.09) .90 4.05 (1.08) .89
Pos. Perfectionism [1–5] 3.20 (0.77) .82 3.00 (0.78) .82 3.21 (0.71) .78 3.37 (0.77) .83
Neg. Perfectionism [1–5] 2.51 (0.87) .89 2.35 (0.82) .87 2.73 (0.80) .87 2.50 (0.92) .92
sample, intercorrelations between the components were:
r = .35 for High Standards and Decision Difficulty, r =
.32 for High Standards and Alternative Search, and r =
.19 for Decision Difficulty and Alternative Search (all p
< .001), and intercorrelations between the computed facet
scales were r = .45, r = .41, and r = .25 (all p < .001).
Regret Scale. All participants completed the 5-item
Regret Scale (Schwartz et al., 2002) on 6-point Likert-
type scales ranging from (1) completely disagree to (6)
completely agree. Given that the internal reliability anal-
ysis showed that the only reverse-coded item (i.e., item 1)
reduced the internal consistency of the scale in all three
subsamples, this item was not included to calculate the
scale scores.
Well-being. To obtain a comprehensive measure of
general well-being, we administered and combined a
series of relevant and well-validated scales. Partici-
pants completed the 4-item Happiness with Life Scale
(Lyubomirsky & Lepper, 1999), the 5-item Satisfaction
with Life scale (Diener, Emmons, Larsen & Griffin,
1985), the 14-item Perceived Stress Scale (Cohen, Ka-
marck & Mermelstein, 1983), the 12-item version of
the General Health Questionnaire (Goldberg & Williams,
1988) and the 5-item General Well-Being Index by the
World Health Organization (1998). All scales were com-
.84], and [.46–84], respectively, except for item 12, which loaded .32
in the European sample and item 7 which loaded .34, .23, and .16 on
the expected component, in the U.S., China and Europe, respectively,
but had a (slightly) higher primary loading on the Decision Difficulty
component. Given the overall correspondence of the components with
the theoretical facets, we maintained Schwartz et al.’s (2002) outline to
compute facet scale scores, in order to allow direct comparability with
previous and future studies.
pleted on Likert-Type scales (see Table 1) with the ap-
propriate labels, which depended on the individual scale.
To obtain an overall, comprehensive measure of general
well-being, we extracted a single component based on the
five scale scores. This component explained 70.76% of
the variance with loadings between |.78| and |.87| for the
five scales.
Perfectionism. We administered the 7-item Personal
Standards and the 9-item Concern over Mistakes facet
scales of the Frost Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale
(Frost, Marten, Lahart, & Rosenblate, 1990) on 5-point
Likert-type scales. These facets have been strongly and
straightforwardly linked with the positive (adaptive) and
the negative (maladaptive) aspect of perfectionism, re-
spectively (e.g., Frost, Heimberg, Holt, Mattia & Neu-
berger, 1993). We will refer to these two facet scales as
“positive” and “negative” perfectionism.
3 Results
To test our hypotheses, we conducted a series of regres-
sion analyses
3
investigating 1) the main and interaction
3
This procedure allows for the most detailed and informative, step-
by step analysis of our data and was therefore chosen over multi-sample
SEM. The latter method would immediately signal whether the com-
bined set of relationships differs between samples overall, but requires
a considerable number of additional analyses to identify which relation-
ships in which samples differ and to what degree exactly. Moreover,
controlling for demographic variables in SEM is less straightforward
than in regression analyses. We therefore believe the regression analy-
ses give a more logical and transparent overview of the results (includ-
ing figures depicting the results of each step of the moderated mediation
model).
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 7, No. 6, November 2012 Tyranny of choice
694
Table 2: Results from the regression analysis testing the
main and interaction effects of maximizing and society
on well-being (β-values).
Step 1 Step 2 Step 3
Sex .00 .02 .02
Age .09* .02 .01
Income .19*** .19*** .19***
Education .08* .08* .08*
Maximizing .30*** .10
Dummy 1 (Europe-China) .01 .00
Dummy 2 (U.S.-China) .00 .02
Maximizing × Dummy1 .19***
Maximizing × Dummy2 .15**
R
2
.06*** .14*** .15***
Note: *** p < .001, ** p < .01, * p < .05.
effects
4
of maximizing and society on well-being, 2) the
main and interaction effects of maximizing and society on
regret (the assumed mediator), and 3) the main and inter-
action effects of regret and society on well-being. Subse-
quently, a mediation model for each society was tested.
Finally, additional analyses investigated the effects for
each facet scale of the Maximizing Scale individually.
3.1 Relationships of maximizing and soci-
ety with well-being
First we tested the hypothesis that the relationship be-
tween an individual’s level of maximizing and his or her
well-being is moderated by the society (s)he lives in.
Therefore, we conducted a hierarchical regression anal-
ysis with the demographic variables sex, age, education
and income as control variables in the first step, the con-
tinuous maximizing score and two dummy-coded society
variables in the second step (with China as the reference
category), and the interaction between maximizing and
the society dummies in the third step.
5
As can be seen
in Table 2, in line with our expectations, significant inter-
actions were found between the effects of level of max-
imizing and society on well-being. These results show
that the relationship between maximizing and well-being
4
Note that “effects” of maximizing and regret technically refer to
relationships, for which the direction can be assumed on a theoretical
basis rather than referring to “experimentally established causality”.
5
Additional analyses also including the interaction terms between
the demographics and society did not reveal any significant effects (all
βs < |1.67|, ns) and did not affect the findings for maximizing, cul-
ture, and their interaction. Continuous variables were centered for the
regression analyses.
Figure 1: Relationship between maximizing and well-
being in three societies.
−0.4 −0.2 0.0 0.2 0.4
Maximizing levels
Well−being
Satisficer (−1 sd) Maximizer (+1 sd)
Europe
China
US
is significantly different in China compared to Europe and
to the U.S. Additional analyses with the U.S. as the ref-
erence society showed no significant differences between
the U.S. and Europe with regard to level of well-being
(main effect: β = .01, ns) or for the relationship be-
tween maximizing and well-being (interaction effect: β
= .07, ns).
The individual slopes for the relationship between
maximizing and well-being for each society were calcu-
lated and plotted in Figure 1. In both the U.S. and Europe,
maximizing showed a negative relationship with well-
being after controlling for demographic variables (β =
.30, and β = .48, respectively, both p < .001), whereas
no such relationship was found in China (β = .11, ns).
3.2 Relationships of maximizing and soci-
ety with regret
A second hierarchical regression analysis was conducted
testing the effects of maximizing and society on regret.
The demographic variables were entered in the first step,
the maximizing score and society dummies in the second
step, and the interaction between maximizing and soci-
ety in the third step. The results showed a strong signif-
icant main effect of maximizing (β = .59, and β = .48,
in step 2 and step 3, respectively, both p < .001) and a
significant main effect of society (China versus Europe:
β = .14 in step 2 and step 3, U.S. versus China: .15
and β = .16, in step 2 and step 3, respectively, all p <
.001). A nearly significant interaction between maximiz-
ing and society was found for China versus Europe (β =
.08, p = .06) and a small, significant interaction was found
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 7, No. 6, November 2012 Tyranny of choice
695
Figure 2: Relationship between maximizing and regret in
three societies.
−1.0 −0.5 0.0 0.5
Maximizing levels
Regret
Satisficer (−1 sd) Maximizer (+1 sd)
Europe
China
US
for China versus the U.S. (β = .11, p < .05) (Figure 2).
No main effect of society or interaction with maximizing
were found for Europe versus the U.S. (β = .01, and β
= .02, respectively, both ns). Importantly, as can be seen
in Figure 2, in all three societies, maximizing was associ-
ated with higher levels of regret; β = .59, β = 60, and β =
.57, for Europe, the U.S., and China, respectively, all p <
.001 (after controlling for demographic variables). A full
overview of the results is presented in Appendix C.
3.3 Relationships of regret and society with
well-being
A third hierarchical regression analysis was conducted
testing the impact of regret and society on well-being.
The demographic variables were entered in the first step,
the regret score and the society dummies in the second
step, and the interaction between regret and society in the
third step. The results showed a significant main effect
of regret (β = .40, p < .001 and β = .17, p < .05, for
step 2 and step 3, respectively). For society, no signifi-
cant main effect was found for Europe versus China (β =
.04, in step 2 and β = .03, in step 3, both ns) or for
the U.S. versus China (β = .06, in step 2 and β = .04,
in step 3, both ns). A significant interaction between re-
gret and society was found for Europe versus China (β
= .18, p < .001), and for the U.S. versus China (β =
.19, p < .001). No main effect of society or interaction
with regret was found for Europe versus the U.S. (β =
.03, and β = .02, respectively, both ns). As can be seen
in Figure 3, regret had a negative relationship with well-
being after controlling for demographic variables in both
the U.S. and Europe (β = .43, and β = .51, both p <
Figure 3: Relationship between regret and well-being in
three societies.
−0.6 −0.4 −0.2 0.0 0.2 0.4 0.6
Regret
Well−being
Satisficer (−1 sd) Maximizer (+1 sd)
Europe
China
US
.001), whereas the relation in China was much weaker (β
= .18, p < .05). A full overview of the results is pre-
sented in Appendix C.
3.4 Mediation analyses
The results of the previous analyses indicate that the dif-
ference between China on the one hand and Europe and
the U.S. on the other hand with regard to the degree to
which maximizing is detrimental to well-being should not
be considered in terms of a different relationship between
maximizing and regret but primarily in terms of a differ-
ent relationship between regret and well-being. Such a
moderated mediation effect was corroborated by a final
hierarchical regression analysis entering the demographic
variables in the first step, maximizing, society and its in-
teraction in the second step, and regret and the interac-
tion with society in the third step (for methodological
details of this procedure, see, Muller, Judd & Yzerbyt,
2005). This analysis showed that for the comparison be-
tween Europe and China, the significant interaction effect
of maximizing and society in step 2 (β = .19, p < .001),
dropped substantially and was rendered only marginally
significant in Step 3 (β = .10, p = .08) when regret and
its interaction with society were entered. For the compar-
ison between the U.S. and China the significant interac-
tion effect of maximizing and society in step 2 (β = .15,
p < .01) completely disappeared in Step 3 (β = .02, ns).
The interaction between culture and regret in step 3 ap-
proached significant for Europe versus China (β = .12,
p = .06) and significant for the U.S. versus China (β =
.19, p < .01).
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 7, No. 6, November 2012 Tyranny of choice
696
Table 3: Total, direct and indirect effects of maximizing on well-being through regret in three societies.
Total effect (SE) Direct effect Indirect effect
Europe
.67*** (.08) .36*** (.10) .30*** (.07)
China
.13 (.08) .02 (.09) .11 (.06)
U.S.
.44*** (.08) .08 (.09) .36*** (.07)
Note: 5000 bootstrap samples, standard errors (reported between parentheses) are estimated by
OLS (total and direct effect) or bootstrapping (indirect effects)
*** p < .001, for the indirect effects, *** = effect within 99% bias corrected confidence interval.
As a final test of the conditional indirect effects, we
used the bootstrapping procedure and macro for medi-
ation analyses provided by Preacher and Hayes (2008).
Unstandardized effects for the mediation effects (con-
trolled for demographic variables) for each society indi-
vidually are presented in Table 3. These analyses show
that the total effect of maximizing on well-being in Eu-
rope stems from the combination of a direct and an indi-
rect effect through regret, whereas in the U.S., the total
effect of maximizing on well-being is entirely attributed
to their indirect link.
3.5 Relationships at the facet level
In general, the total negative relationship between max-
imizing and well-being and the mediation by regret was
similar in our two western societies and clearly different
from the non-western society. However, given that pre-
vious studies argued that the High Standards facet scale
of the Maximizing Scale may not show the same nega-
tive relationships to well-being as the two other facets, we
conducted additional analyses for each of the facet scales.
Moreover, the findings obtained in our samples with the
total scale indicated that the relationship between maxi-
mizing and well-being was somewhat stronger in Europe
because, in addition to the strong indirect effects in both
the U.S. and Europe, an additional direct effect was re-
vealed in Europe. Analyzing the effects of the individ-
ual facet scales may clarify the small differences between
Europe and the U.S. on a more detailed level.
Hierarchical regression analyses for well-being, simi-
lar to the analysis for the global Maximizing Scale, were
conducted for each facet scale entering the society dum-
mies and the facet instead of the global maximizing score
in Step 2, and the interaction in Step 3. Given that we
are also specifically interested in potential differences be-
tween the U.S. and Europe regarding the individual rela-
tionships between the maximizing facet scales and well-
being, we chose Europe as the reference society for the
analysis this time. Similar to the differences between
China and Europe in the relationship between the global
Maximizing Scale and well-being, significant interaction
effects of society × facet scale emerged when comparing
Europe to China (β = .16, p < .001, β = .11, p < .05, β =
.12, p < .05, for Alternative Search, Decision Difficulty,
and High Standards, respectively). For the comparison
between Europe and the U.S., no significant interactions
with society were found for Alternative Search (β = .07,
ns) and Decision Difficulty (β = .02, ns). However, the
interaction with High Standards clearly showed a differ-
ent effect on well-being in the U.S. compared to Europe
(β = .13, p < .05). Individual slopes revealed a signif-
icant negative relationship between High Standards and
well-being in Europe (β = -.22, p < .001), but not in the
U.S. (β = .01, ns). With respect to the relation of the in-
dividual facets to regret, regression analyses showed that
each of the three facets had a strong relation to regret in
Europe, China and the U.S. (all β > .31, all p < .001) and
in line with the limited interactions with the global Maxi-
mizing Scale, no interactions with society were found on
the facets scale level. A full overview of the results at the
facet level is presented in Appendix D.
Next, mediation analyses at the facet level were con-
ducted using the bootstrap procedure by Preacher and
Hayes (2008). The results of these analyses, summarized
in Table 4, revealed that in Europe each of the three facet
scales had a significant indirect effect, as well as a mod-
est direct effect, for Alternative Search and Decision Dif-
ficulty in the same direction as the indirect effect.
In the U.S., indirect effects similar to those in Europe
were found for all facet scales. Especially interesting
however, no total effect of High Standards was found in
the U.S., because the detrimental indirect effect of High
Standards on well-being was countered by its direct ef-
fect, which showed an opposite sign (see Table 4). This
finding signals that, in the U.S. sample, High Standards
are associated with increased regret, and therefore with
lower well-being, but they also have a positive associa-
tion with well-being that is independent from their asso-
ciation with regret.
To get some insight in this particular finding, we com-
puted correlations with the measures for the positive and
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 7, No. 6, November 2012 Tyranny of choice
697
Table 4: Total, direct and indirect Effects for each of the facet scales separately in three societies.
Total Effect
(SE)
Direct Effect
(SE)
Indirect effect
(SE)
Europe Search
Difficulty
Standards
.47*** (.07)
.39*** (.07)
.23*** (.06)
.26*** (.07)
.17* (.07)
.06 (.06)
.22*** (.05)
.22*** (.04)
.17*** (.04)
China Search
Difficulty
Standards
.07 (.07)
.15** (.06)
.03 (.06)
.02 (.07)
.11 (.06)
.09 (.07)
.09 (.05)
.04 (.03)
.06** (.03)
U.S. Search
Difficulty
Standards
.29*** (.07)
.32*** (.05)
.01 (.07)
.05 (.07)
.16** (.05)
.22***(.06)
.25*** (.04)
.15*** (.03)
.22*** (.04)
Note: *** p < .001, ** p < .01, * p < .05, for the indirect effects the symbols refer
to inclusion in the 99.9%, 99%, and 95% confidence intervals, respectively.
negative perfectionism to assess whether the High Stan-
dards items may have a different meaning in the U.S. ver-
sus Europe. In the European subsample, the Maximizing
High Standards facet was strongly related to both posi-
tive and negative perfectionism (r = .55 and r = .38, both
p < .001). In the U.S. sample, the High Standards facet
showed a similar, strong correlation with positive perfec-
tionism (r = .53, p < .001), but the relation with negative
perfectionism (r = .28, p <.001) was somewhat (but not
significantly; z = 1.87, ns) lower compared to Europe. In
contrast to the High Standards facet, the other facet scales
consistently showed a stronger correlation with negative
perfectionism (r
mean
= .44, p < .001) compared to positive
perfectionism (r
mean
= .16, p < .01) (z = 5.06, p < .001).
Importantly, negative perfectionism was most strongly
related to well-being, with r = .56 (p < .001) in the
European sample, and a relationship that was somewhat
smaller but still substantial in the U.S. sample (r = .43,
p < .001) (z = 2.05, p < .05). Positive perfectionism also
showed a small negative relationship with well-being (r
= .13, p < .05) in the European sample but, most in-
terestingly, a positive association was found in the U.S.
sample (r = .14, p < .05) (z = 3.22, p < .01). As will
be discussed below, these different patterns may provide
valuable insights in how and why high standards can have
ambiguous relationships with well-being.
4 Discussion
Recent literature has asserted that, although a tendency to
maximize in everyday choices and decisions can lead to
better objective outcomes, it reduces an individual’s well-
being (Schwartz et al., 2002). However, given that the
context and amount of choice in everyday life is largely
determined by the society one lives in, we proposed that
an individual’s dispositional tendency for maximizing
will have a negative effect on well-being in western so-
cieties only, where personal choice and the number of
options are abundant or even excessive, the value society
places on individual choice is high, and the responsibil-
ity for being unhappy is attributed to the individual fail-
ure to make the right choices. In societies where personal
choice is more limited and less valued, and where individ-
ual happiness is not supposed to come merely from mak-
ing the right personal choices, we predicted that a dis-
positional tendency for maximizing would have no such
detrimental impact on the individual’s well-being.
In line with the previous work (e.g., Iyengar et al.,
2006; Purvis, et al., 2011; Schwartz et al., 2002), the
present results indeed demonstrated a clear link between
maximizing and well-being in western societies (i.e., the
U.S. and Western Europe), which was mediated by expe-
rienced regret. In particular, maximizing was associated
with increased experience of regret, which in turn had a
strong, detrimental impact on well-being. However, in
China, this link between maximizing and well-being was
absent. The results showed that, although maximizing
was associated with a greater vulnerability to experience
regret in China as well, unlike in western societies, regret
had no substantial impact on general well-being. Hence,
these findings corroborate our hypothesis that in societies
where individual choice is less abundant and less val-
ued as the way to happiness, an individual tendency to
maximize is not as detrimental to well-being compared
to societies that do have extensive, perhaps even exces-
sive choice and who place paramount value on individ-
ual choice, attributing a failure to be happy to a failure to
make the right choices. It therefore seems that, ironically,
in terms of well-being, maximizers may be better off liv-
ing in China than in western societies. However, it should
also be noted that the highest levels of well-being were re-
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 7, No. 6, November 2012 Tyranny of choice
698
ported by satisficers in western societies. Hence, it seems
that the individual’s way of coping with choice has little
relevance for well-being when choice is limited, but it is
highly relevant for well-being when choice is abundant.
That is, western societies’ abundance of choice and the
high value attached to personal choice can considerably
improve but also decrease the individual’s well-being, de-
pending on how he or she approaches these choices in
everyday life.
We believe that the substantial cross-cultural differ-
ences we obtained reflect genuine differences in the rela-
tionship of maximizing and regret with well-being, rather
than being the result of potential cross-cultural inequiva-
lence of the measures. Although the present study was
not designed as a test of measurement (in)equivalence, it
can be noted that a similar factor structure of the max-
imizing scale was obtained across cultures and that the
different measures showed comparable means, standard
deviations, and Cronbach alpha’s in the U.S., Europe and
China. In fact, the variation in the psychometric char-
acteristics of our measures across the different cultures
was generally not greater than the variation across pre-
vious studies within the same culture (e.g., Diab et al.,
2008; Purvis et al., 2011). We also did not find indica-
tions of a systematically different response pattern (i.e.,
a more moderate response style, see Hamamura, Heine
& Paulhus, 2008) in Chinese compared to western re-
spondents for the specific measures used in the present
study. Hence, we believe that the alternative explanation
for our findings in terms of measurement inequivalence is
unlikely.
In sum, on the basis of samples drawn from three dis-
tinct cultures, our findings suggest that the society an in-
dividual lives in plays an important role in the relation-
ship between maximizing and well-being. However, fu-
ture research may want to pursue a more fine-grained in-
vestigation of the influence of society. In particular, such
research might investigate these relationships in a greater
diversity of both Western-European, and especially non-
western countries, in order to delineate specific societal
parameters that influence the degree to which maximiz-
ing and well-being are related. Such parameters may,
for example, include economic development and politi-
cal/societal structure (e.g., authoritarianism versus liber-
tarianism, and individualism versus collectivism), which
can be assumed to determine the abundance of choice and
the number of options in a society, and/or the value at-
tached to individual choice and the standards for what is
believed to be a satisfactory outcome.
Whereas the relationship between maximizing and re-
gret over imperfect choices was relatively stable across
cultures, the relationship between regret and well-being
was strongly influenced by culture. Therefore, the lat-
ter relationship appears to be the key to understanding
the overall interaction between maximizing and society
in their effect on well-being. Future research may want
to delineate this relationship in terms of both the quali-
tative meaning and the quantitative occurrence of regret.
In particular, if a society advocates individual choice as
a means to make one’s own happiness, the experience of
decisional regret signals personal failure to be the person
one could and should be. In such a context, regret can
be assumed to be especially meaningful and damaging to
well-being. In addition, the degree to which a society ac-
tually provides opportunities to experience regret repre-
sents a more quantitative pathway to well-being. That is,
although maximizers in different societies may equally
often experience regret when they make choices, some
societies may simply offer fewer opportunities to make
personal choices and thus also offer fewer opportunities
to experience regret, in which case well-being is likely to
be more dependent on other factors that are more salient.
4.1 Relationships at the facet level
Importantly, our conclusions based on the total Maximiz-
ing Scale overall remain valid when looking at the three
facets of the scale individually. Indeed, the individual
differences × society interaction also emerged at a more
detailed facet level, indicating a detrimental effect of Al-
ternative Search and Decision Difficulty on well-being in
Western Europe and the U.S., but not in China. The in-
teraction effect was also found for High Standards when
comparing Europe to China, but not when comparing the
U.S. to China. These results across the three facet scales
of Schwartz et al.s (2002) Maximizing Scale are also
meaningful from a conceptual perspective on maximiz-
ing. Indeed, Schwartz and colleagues (2002) considered
the maximizing construct and the scale to measure in-
dividual differences as multi-faceted. However, as dis-
cussed earlier, some previous studies did not find a con-
sistent pattern of results across the three facet scales. In-
deed, studies by Diab et al. (2008) and Rim et al. (2011)
found high standards to be unrelated or even slightly pos-
itively related to indicators of well-being. Also in the
present study, the High Standards facet revealed a more
ambiguous pattern than the other facet scales, showing to
be negatively related to well-being in Europe but not in
the U.S.
To understand these divergent findings, we believe the
accumulated insights in the perfectionism literature may
be helpful. In particular, whereas perfectionism gener-
ally has negative effects on well-being, positive aspects
of perfectionism have also been identified and these have
been shown to yield positive effects on well-being in a
number of studies (for an overview, see Stroeber & Otto,
2006). In the present study, we found that especially the
High Standards facet is not only linked to negative perfec-
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 7, No. 6, November 2012 Tyranny of choice
699
tionism (also labeled Neurotic, Unhealthy, or Maladap-
tive Perfectionism see, Hamacheck, 1978; Stroeber &
Otto, 2006) but also, and even more strongly, to positive
perfectionism (also called, Normal, Healthy, or Adaptive
Perfectionism). This seems to indicate that the Maximiz-
ing High Standards facet itself has both an adaptive and a
maladaptive aspect or meaning. We therefore suggest that
the association between high standards and well-being
may vary as a function of the relative strength of the adap-
tive and maladaptive perfectionism aspects and their rel-
evance for well-being in a given context. In the European
sample of our study, high standards were strongly associ-
ated with both aspects of perfectionism, but we found no
positive relationship between positive perfectionism and
well-being to counter the strong negative relation with
negative perfectionism, resulting in a strong negative as-
sociation between high standards and well-being. In the
U.S. sample, high standards were also associated with
negative perfectionism, which again was strongly related
to well-being. Notably, these relationships were smaller
than in the European sample. Most importantly how-
ever, in contrast to the European sample, positive perfec-
tionism showed a modest positive relationship with well-
being in the U.S. sample. We believe this pattern of rela-
tionships is most meaningful in the light of the absence of
an overall negative relationship between high standards
and well-being in the U.S. sample. In particular, it seems
that, in the U.S. sample, the modest positive influence of
the dominant positive aspect of high standards (i.e., posi-
tive perfectionism) counters the strong negative influence
of the less dominant negative aspect of high standards.
Given the absence of previous cross-cultural research
on this issue, it seems premature to draw firm conclu-
sions about whether these findings reflect a genuine, sta-
ble difference between the U.S. and Europe. Neverthe-
less, these differences indicate that the impact of the pos-
itive and the negative aspect of high standards can indeed
substantially vary across samples, and that the detrimen-
tal impact of the negative part of high standards can be
compensated by the positive part. Under the right cir-
cumstances, the impact of the positive aspect of high stan-
dards might even be able to completely overturn the im-
pact of the negative aspect. Interestingly, previous stud-
ies on perfectionism may give an indication of the type
of sample for which the positive aspect of high standards
may have the strongest impact—undergraduate students.
It is indeed remarkable that Stroeber and Otto’s (2006) re-
view of the positive relationship between positive perfec-
tionism and well-being almost entirely relied on evidence
obtained in student samples. Moreover, individual studies
showed that positive perfectionism, but not negative per-
fectionism, is particularly strongly related to school satis-
faction (Gilman, Ashby, Sverko, Florell, & Varjas, 2005),
and positive perfectionism has stronger relationships than
negative perfectionism with academic achievement (Biel-
ing, Israeli, Smith & Martin, 2003; Brown, Heimberg,
Frost, Makris, Juster & Leung, 1999), and “hope of suc-
cess” (Stoeber & Rambow, 2007), which all can be as-
sumed to be quite central to students’ general well-being.
Based on these insights, a tentative proposal can be put
forward, stating that for students, the positive aspect of
high standards may carry more weight in determining
well-being than it does in non-student samples, and even
reverse the negative effect. As such, the enhanced role of
the positive connotation of high standards in determining
students’ well-being may provide an explanation for the
studies that found a small, but significant positive rela-
tionship between high standards and well-being in sam-
ples of U.S. undergraduate students.
We believe that this “ambivalence” (literally meaning
“both valences”) perspective, although tentative at this
point, may provide a valuable direction for future re-
search to advance our insight in the High Standards facet
and the maximizing construct in general, and their re-
lationship with well-being. However, we want to cau-
tion that acknowledging a positive aspect to maximizing
does not change the concept itself or its core meaning as
the tendency to (keep) seek(ing) the best option. This
is also important with regard to the measurement of the
concept. In particular, whereas—despite its (too) lim-
ited focus—the adapted Maximizing scale of Diab et al.
(2008) is creditably in line with the maximizing concept,
this does not seem to be the case for the recently devel-
oped 5-item maximizing scale by Lai (2010) which in-
cluded two new items that merely tap into the tendency
to think and deliberate before acting in decision mak-
ing (i.e., “My decisions are well thought through” and
“Before making a choice, I consider many alternatives
thoroughly”). These items—which notably showed the
highest loading on the new scale–do not seem to mea-
sure the tendency to maximize as in looking for the sin-
gle best option (hence also considering all alternatives),
but they rather reflect a tendency to invest cognitive ef-
fort when making choices. Therefore, rather than the ten-
dency to maximize, the adaptive willingness to invest ef-
fort in making choices (versus cognitive laziness) may be
driving the small positive correlation Lai (2010) obtained
between her scale and optimism in the two adult samples.
5 Conclusion
The present research investigated a person × society per-
spective on well-being in the context of coping with
choice. In particular, we tested whether the relationship
between individual differences in maximizing and well-
being depends on the society the individual lives in. The
results clearly showed that for people who are able to set-
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 7, No. 6, November 2012 Tyranny of choice
700
tle for a good enough option when facing choice in every-
day life (i.e satisficers), living in a society where choice is
abundant increases well-being. However, people who are
unable to settle for options that are merely good enough,
but instead seek for the single best option, experience less
well-being in western societies and seem better off living
in a society that provides and values more limited individ-
ual choice. Hence, whether western societies’ abundance
of choice and the high value attached to personal choice
is a blessing or a curse may depend on how the individual
tends to cope with this (excess of) freedom. As Schwartz
(2000, 2009) has suggested, in the west, central aspects of
identity may be so tied up with freedom of choice that the
stakes involved in each decision a person makes are high.
Under these conditions, a self-imposed standard to seek
the “best” may impose pressure on people that defeats the
benefits of such high standards even when individuals are
able to attain them.
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Appendix A
The Maximizing-satisficing scale (Schwartz et al. 2002).
1) No matter how satisfied I am with my job, it’s only right for me to be on the lookout for better opportunities. AS
2) When I am in the car listening to the radio, I often check other stations to see if something better is playing,
even if I am relatively satisfied with what I’m listening to. AS
3) When I watch TV, I channel surf, often scanning through the available options even while attempting to watch
one program. AS
4) I treat relationships like clothing: I expect to try a lot on before finding the perfect fit. AS
5) I often find it difficult to shop for a gift for a friend. DD
6) Renting videos is really difficult. I’m always struggling to pick the best one. DD
7) I’m a big fan of lists that attempt to rank things (the best movies, the best singers, the best athletes, the best
novels, etc.). AS
8) When shopping, I have a hard time finding clothing that I really love. DD
9) I find that writing is very difficult, even if it’s just writing a letter to a friend, because it’s so hard to word things
just right. I often do several drafts of even simple things. DD
10) I never settle for second best. HS
11) Whenever I’m faced with a choice, I try to imagine what all the other possibilities are, even ones that aren’t
present at the moment. HS
12) I often fantasize about living in ways that are quite different from my actual life AS
13) No matter what I do, I have the highest standards for myself. HS
Note: AS = Alternative Search, DD = Decision Difficulty, HS = High Standards.
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 7, No. 6, November 2012 Tyranny of choice
703
Appendix B
Intercorrelations between the variables in the Total sample, and the European, Chinese and U.S. sample, respectively.
AS DD HS Regret Well-being
Maximizing .88***
.87***
.89***
.86***
.76***
.78***
.72***
.76***
.63***
.57***
.67***
.60***
.60***
.59***
.55***
.62***
.30***
.44***
.14*
.28***
AS .45***
.50***
.43***
.40***
.41***
.25***
.52***
.40***
.51***
.51***
.45***
.52***
.29***
.42***
.11
.23***
DD .25***
.26***
.22***
.23***
.50***
.48***
.50***
.49***
.32***
.36***
.20**
.35***
HS .34***
.32***
.29***
.36***
.04
.16**
.02
.05
Regret .41***
.50***
.19**
.43***
Note: upper line: total sample, second line: European sample, third line: Chinese sample,
fourth line: U.S. sample. *** p < .001, ** p < .01, * p = .46.
Appendix C
Full results of the Regression analyses testing the relationship of maximizing and society with Regret (C1) and the
relationship of Regret and society with well-being (C2).
Table C1 Step 1 Step 2 Step 3
Sex .01 .04 .04
Age .18*** .04 .03
Income .01 .00 .01
Education .02 .03 .03
Maximizing .59*** .48***
Dummy 1 (Europe-China) .14*** .14***
Dummy 2 (U.S.-China) .15*** .16***
Maximizing × Dummy1 .08
Maximizing × Dummy2 .11*
R
2
.03*** .35*** .01*
Table C2 Step 1 Step 2 Step 3
Sex .00 .00 .00
Age .09* .02 .02
Income .19*** .19*** .19***
Education .08* .07* .07*
Regret .40*** .17*
Dummy 1 (Europe-China) .04 .03
Dummy 2 (U.S.-China) .06 .04
Regret × Dummy1 .18***
Regret × Dummy2 .19***
R
2
.06*** .16*** .01***
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 7, No. 6, November 2012 Tyranny of choice
704
Appendix D
Full results of the Regression analyses testing the relationship of each of the maximizing facets and society with
Well-Being (D1) and with Regret (D2).
Table D1 Alternative Search Decision Difficulty High Standards
Step 1 Step 2 Step 3 Step 1 Step 2 Step 3 Step 1 Step 2 Step 3
Sex .00 .02 .02 .00 .01 .01 .00 .00 .00
Age .09* .03 .02 .09* .04 .04 .09* .10** .10*
Income .19*** .19*** .20*** .19*** .18*** .18*** .19*** .19** .19***
Education .08* .08* .08* .08* .08* .07* .08* .10** .11**
Facet .25*** .39*** .30*** .37*** .04 .18**
Dummy 1 (Eur.-U.S.) .03 .02 .02 .03 .07 .05
Dummy 1 (Eur.-Chi.) .02 .00 .05 .04 .09 .08†
Facet × Dummy1 .07 .02 .13*
Facet × Dummy2 .16*** .11* .12*
R
2
.06*** .06*** .01** .06*** .09*** .01* .06*** .01† .01*
Note: *** p < .001, ** p < .01, * p < .05, † p < .10
Table D2 Alternative Search Decision Difficulty High Standards
Step 1 Step 2 Step 3 Step 1 Step 2 Step 3 Step 1 Step 2 Step 3
Sex .01 .04 .04 .01 .02 .02 .01 .10 .01
Age .18*** .06† .06 .18*** .10** .10** .18*** .17*** .17***
Income .01 .00 .00 .01 .01 .02 .01 .01 .02
Education .02 .03 .03 .02 .03 .03 .02 .08* .08*
Facet .48*** .50*** .46*** .51*** .32*** .31***
Dummy 1 (Eur.-U.S.) .03 .02 .18*** .18*** .21*** .21***
Dummy 2 (Eur.-Ch.) .17*** .17*** .10** .10** .10* .10*
Facet × Dummy1 .03 .04 .05
Facet × Dummy2 .05 .03 .04
R
2
.03*** .26*** .00 .03*** .25*** .00 .03*** .14*** .00
Note: *** p < .001, ** p < .01, * p < .05, † p < .10
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The wide range of 401(k) plans offered to employees has raised the question of whether there is such as thing as too much choice. The 401(k) participation rates among clients of the Vanguard Group were studied to verify the assumption that more choice is more desirable and intrinsically motivating. It was found that 401(k) plans that offered more funds had lower probability of employee participation. © Pension Research Council, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, 2004. All rights reserved.
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A theory of the types of values on which cultures can be compared is presented and validated with data from 49 nations from around the world. Seven types of values are identified, structured along three polar dimensions: Conservatism versus Intellectual and Affective Autonomy; Hierarchy versus Egalitarianism; and Mastery versus Harmony. Based on their cultural value priorities, nations are arrayed in a two-dimensional space, revealing meaningful groupings of culturally related nations. Analyses replicate with both teacher and student samples. Implications of national differences in cultural values for differences in meaning of work are explicated. To stimulate research on cultural values and work, hypotheses are developed regarding the cultural value emphases that are especially compatible or conflicting with work centrality, with different societal norms about work, and with the pursuit of four types of work values or goals.
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Americans live in a political, social, and historical context that values personal freedom and choice above all else, an emphasis that has been amplified by contemporary psychology. However, this article reviews research that shows that in non-Western cultures and among working-class Westerners, freedom and choice do not have the meaning or importance they do for the university-educated people who have been the subjects of almost all research on this topic. We cannot assume that choice, as understood by educated, affluent Westerners, is a universal aspiration. The meaning and significance of choice are cultural constructions. Moreover, even when choice can foster freedom, empowerment, and independence, it is not an unalloyed good. Too much choice can produce a paralyzing uncertainty, depression, and selfishness. In the United States, the path to well-being may require that we strike a balance between the positive and negative consequences of proliferating choice in every domain of life. (c) 2010 by JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH, Inc..
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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.
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Perfectionism has been defined as a dispositional tendency to set excessively high performance standards and to then evaluate one's performance in an overly critical manner (Frost, Marten, Lahart, & Rosenblate, 1990). Using the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale developed by these authors, the current investigation examined the relationship of two dimensions of perfectionism, high personal standards (PS) and maladaptive concern over mistakes (CM), to patterns of behavior, cognition, and affect in an ecologically valid evaluative context - a semester-long college course. For the 90 women attending this psychology course, PS was associated with more frequent study behavior, evaluation of the course as more important, higher standards and expectations for academic performance, and better grades across the semester. Like PS, CM was associated with more frequent study behavior, but it was also related to perceptions of greater course difficulty, higher anxiety, and more negative mood prior to examinations. CM was not associated with better grades. The discrepancy between standards for performance on the midterm exam and actual midterm exam grades and attributions about these grades were also predictive of academic behaviors later in the semester and performance on the final examination. Implications of these findings and recommendations for future investigations are discussed.
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This article reports the development and validation of a scale to measure global life satisfaction, the Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS). Among the various components of subjective well-being, the SWLS is narrowly focused to assess global life satisfaction and does not tap related constructs such as positive affect or loneliness. The SWLS is shown to have favorable psychometric properties, including high internal consistency and high temporal reliability. Scores on the SWLS correlate moderately to highly with other measures of subjective well-being, and correlate predictably with specific personality characteristics. It is noted that the SWLS is suited for use with different age groups, and other potential uses of the scale are discussed.
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Discusses the characteristics, antecedents, and behavioral symptoms of normal and neurotic perfectionism. Normal perfectionists set realistic standards for themselves, derive pleasure from their painstaking labors, and are capable of choosing to be less precise in certain situations. Neurotic perfectionists, on the other hand, demand of themselves a usually unattainable level of performance, experience their efforts as unsatisfactory, and are unable to relax their standards. The development of neurotic perfectionism tends to occur in 1 of 2 kinds of emotive environments: (a) nonapproval or inconsistent approval in which parents fail to establish explicit performance standards for the child, or (b) parental expressions of conditional positive approval far exceed those of unconditional positive approval. Normal perfectionism tends to develop through either positive modeling (the close identification of the child with an emotionally important person) or negative modeling (the child rejects the behavior of an emotionally important person). Some symptoms describe both normal and neurotic perfectionists, but neurotic perfectionists experience them with greater intensity and for a longer duration. Four specific goals are stated which have proven useful in helping clients to change their neurotic perfectionism. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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The present study investigates how the Big Five personality traits may play a role in explaining the negative association between maximization and well-being. Contrary to expectation that conscientiousness drives one’s tendency to maximize, neuroticism emerged as the strongest predictor. Further, when controlling for personality traits, the negative relations between maximization (and its facets) and various well-being variables were appreciably attenuated. However, the tendency to experience regret was found to fully mediate the negative relationship between maximization and satisfaction with life even after controlling for personality traits. Our findings suggest that the measurement of maximization may over-represent an affective component of maximizing that leads to decision-related distress while neglecting a more cognitive component, which might reflect a preference for planned, yet painstaking, searches for the “best.”