Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Too Many Choices -- Good Or Bad -- Can Be Mentally Exhausting

Date:
April 15, 2008
Source:
American Psychological Association
Summary:
Each day, we are bombarded with options -- at the local coffee shop, at work, in stores or on the TV at home. Do you want a double-shot soy latte, a caramel macchiato or simply a tall house coffee for your morning pick-me-up? Having choices is typically thought of as a good thing. Maybe not, say researchers who found we are more fatigued and less productive when faced with a plethora of choices.

Each day, we are bombarded with options -- at the local coffee shop, at work, in stores or on the TV at home. Do you want a double-shot soy latte, a caramel macchiato or simply a tall house coffee for your morning pick-me-up" Having choices is typically thought of as a good thing. Maybe not, say researchers who found we are more fatigued and less productive when faced with a plethora of choices.

Researchers from several universities have determined that even though humans' ability to weigh choices is remarkably advantageous, it can also come with some serious liabilities. People faced with numerous choices, whether good or bad, find it difficult to stay focused enough to complete projects, handle daily tasks or even take their medicine.

Researchers conducted seven experiments involving 328 participants and 58 consumers at a shopping mall. In the laboratory experiments, some participants were asked to make choices about consumer products, college courses or class materials. Other participants did not have to make decisions but simply had to consider the options in front of them.

The scientists then asked each group to participate in one of two unpleasant tasks. Some were told to finish a healthy but ill-tasting drink (akin to taking ones medicine). Other participants were told to put their hands in ice water. The tasks were designed to test how the previous act of choosing, or not choosing, affected peoples' ability to stay on task and maintain behaviors aimed at reaching a goal.

Researchers found that the participants who earlier had made choices had more trouble staying focused and finishing the disagreeable but goal-focused tasks compared to the participants who initially did not have to make choices.

In other experiments, participants were given math problems to practice for an upcoming test. The participants who had to make important choices involving coursework spent less time solving the math problems and more time engaging in other distractions such as playing video games or reading magazines, compared to participants who were not asked to make choices prior to that point. The participants who made choices also got more math problems wrong than participants not faced with decisions.

To further buttress their laboratory findings, the researchers conducted a field test at a shopping mall. The shoppers reported how much decision-making they had done while shopping that day and then were asked to solve simple arithmetic problems. The researchers found that the more choices the shoppers had made earlier in the day, the worse they performed on the math problems. The authors note they controlled for how long the participants had been shopping, and for several demographic categories such as age, race, ethnicity and gender.

Kathleen D. Vohs, PhD, the study's lead author and a member of the University of Minnesota's marketing department, concluded that making choices apparently depletes a precious resource within the human mind. "Maintaining one's focus while trying to solve problems or completing an unpleasant task was much harder for those who had made choices compared to those who had not," says Vohs. "This pattern was found in the laboratory, classroom and shopping mall. Having to make the choice was the key. It did not matter if the researchers told them to make choices, or if it was a spontaneously made choice, or if making the choice had consequences or not."

But what about making fun choices" How does that affect our mental acuity" In their last experiment, researchers determined that making a few enjoyable decisions, such as spending four minutes selecting items for a gift registry, was shown to be less mentally draining than when participants spent 12 minutes doing the same task. In other words, even if people are having fun making decisions, their cognitive functions are still being depleted with every choice they make.

Vohs says these experiments provide evidence that making choices, as opposed to just thinking about options, is what is especially taxing. "There is a significant shift in the mental programming that is made at the time of choosing, whether the person acts on it at that time or sometime in the future. Therefore, simply the act of choosing can cause mental fatigue," says Vohs. "Making choices can be difficult and taxing, and there is a personal price to choosing."

Journal Article: "Making Choices Impairs Subsequent Self-Control: A Limited-Resource Account of Decision Making, Self-Regulation, and Active Initiative," Kathleen D. Vohs, PhD, and Noelle M. Nelson, PhD, University of Minnesota; Roy Baumeister, PhD, Florida State University; Brandon J. Schmeichel, PhD, Texas A&M University; Jean M. Twenge, PhD, San Diego State University; Dianne M. Tice, PhD, Florida State University; Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 94, No. 5


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Psychological Association. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

American Psychological Association. "Too Many Choices -- Good Or Bad -- Can Be Mentally Exhausting." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 April 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080414155238.htm>.
American Psychological Association. (2008, April 15). Too Many Choices -- Good Or Bad -- Can Be Mentally Exhausting. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 27, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080414155238.htm
American Psychological Association. "Too Many Choices -- Good Or Bad -- Can Be Mentally Exhausting." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080414155238.htm (accessed August 27, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Have You Ever Been 'Sleep Drunk?' 1 in 7 Has

Have You Ever Been 'Sleep Drunk?' 1 in 7 Has

Newsy (Aug. 26, 2014) A study published in the journal "Neurology" interviewed more than 19,000 people and found 15 percent suffer from being "sleep drunk." Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Does Medical Marijuana Reduce Painkiller Overdose Deaths?

Does Medical Marijuana Reduce Painkiller Overdose Deaths?

Newsy (Aug. 26, 2014) A new study found fewer deaths from prescription drug overdoses in states that have legalized medical marijuana. But experts disagree on the results. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Heart Group: E-Cigarettes May Help Smokers Quit

Heart Group: E-Cigarettes May Help Smokers Quit

AP (Aug. 25, 2014) The American Heart Association's first policy statement on electronic cigarettes backs them as a last resort to help smokers quit and calls for more regulation to keep them away from youth. (Aug. 25) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Doctors Push For Later Start Times As School Year Kicks Off

Doctors Push For Later Start Times As School Year Kicks Off

Newsy (Aug. 25, 2014) The American Academy of Pediatrics is the latest group pushing for middle schools and high schools to start later, for the sake of their kids. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



    Save/Print:
    Share:

    Free Subscriptions


    Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

    Get Social & Mobile


    Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

    Have Feedback?


    Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
    Mobile: iPhone Android Web
    Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
    Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
    Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins