Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - December 6, 2019

84 shades of white

Now that I'm retired, I thought it was time to work on a project husband Art and I have talked about for ages - painting our bedroom. So last Friday, daughter Mariya accompanied me to Home Depot to help me pick paint colors.

But I was not ready for what happened when we walked into the paint section! The display rack had sample paint swatches from several paint companies. One alone had 84 whites, 84 grays and 84 neutrals. Among the whites were Dove - "a warm greige that may appear as a soothing gray," Mourning Dove - "... a light gray," Calcium - "a cool white with a touch of lime," Granite Dust - "a light tan cast with rosy beige," Melting Icicles - "a white with a frosty blue undertone" and ... well, you get the idea.

My mind reeled back to a fall 2004 column I wrote about a shopping trip. Get me out of here! was about arriving at the store needing only four items - shampoo, cat food, greeting cards and toilet paper. The plan was to zip in, pick them up and zip back out. But it didn't work out that way! The wide variety of options resulted in my spending two hours to buy those four things.

Option overload can present itself anywhere. During my lifetime, we have gone from having three major television networks to having so many they're virtually countless. In addition to the original three that provide a mixture of news and entertainment, some now deliver just news. Within that group, they are divided into various news perspectives. Channels range from those that provide entertainment just for kids to those that are at the other end of the age spectrum.

And if that isn't enough, more choices are available on our computers.

I think most of us would agree that having such a wide range of options is good. We did some painting at our cottage recently and wanted it to blend with what was already on the walls. We took in a piece of painted molding and it was placed in a scanner. A few minutes later, we were walking out with two quarts that matched perfectly.

However, if a person is presented with too many choices, trying to select the "best" one without some additional criteria can be inhibiting rather than liberating. In an October 2018 Psychology Today article, "Too Much Choice," author Eva Krockow, a researcher in decision-making at the University of Leicester, said too many choices can leave a person dissatisfied and disappointed. She gives the example of Starbucks, which advertises a choice of 80,000 different drink combinations, depending on the beans, the country of origin, the type of roast and the specific coffee drink selected.

Krockow says:

Much of today's Western culture is based on the liberal belief in the freedom of choice. By making our own decisions, in line with our individual preferences, we expect to increase well-being and happiness. This is supported by the economic market, which has adapted to offer a maximum of product variety to cater to every possible consumer preference. Awesome, right?

But psychological research has shown that trying to choose between too many options can be so challenging that consumers shy away from the process altogether, leading to "analysis paralysis."

Barry Schwartz, author of "The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less," published in 2004, says:

... there's a point where all of this choice starts to be not only unproductive, but counterproductive - a source of pain, regret, worry about missed opportunities and unrealistically high expectations.

If that sounds crazy, consider a paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology from 2000. Social psychologists Sheena Iyengar, a management professor at Columbia University Business School, and Mark Lepper, a psychology professor at Stanford University, discussed an experiment where two groups of shoppers encountered a display of jam. One group had six choices and the other had 24. Shoppers showed more interest in the larger assortment. But customers were 10 times more likely to make a purchase if they could only chose among six rather than among 24.

Just think of the pressure that places on a store manager. More choices attract more customers, but those shoppers are more likely to buy something when the choices are fewer! So it wasn't just me dealing with analysis paralysis.

After studying the color swatches I took home, I eventually narrowed my choice of paints down to a few and called to order some sample jars so we could test the paint on our walls. "Would you like those in flat, eggshell, satin or semigloss?" the helpful woman asked.

This painting job may be done by Christmas. And if it is, well maybe it will be Snowfall White outside or perhaps we'll have Melting Icicles that match our wall color. And maybe I could write a column about it. Do they allow computers in the loony bin?

Of course they do: Apples, Lenovos, HPs, Dells, Acers ...

"Art, which do you like?" I asked.
"Either one," he answered. "They're the same!"

Comments? [email protected].
Other columns from 2020 may be found at: 2020 Index.
Links to previous years are on the home page: Home